It’s been about 10 months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano and Alex and Darla have made a home with Alex’s relatives on a farm in Illinois where they work very hard to keep a few crops producing, despite the less than ideal weather. Alex’s parents still haven’t returned from Iowa. When Alex – already restless, worried, and impatient – finds a gun on a bandit that links to his parents, he decides that it’s time that he and Darla retrace their journey from Iowa in search of them.
Mike Mullin does not waste any time at all getting to the action - within the first chapter the characters are caught up in a fight for their lives and I’m immediately swept up in Alex’s story once again. Seriously, the nearly 600 pages that make up this novel flew by in a blur. At first, when I realized that this book involved the same two people making practically the same trip as they did in the first book, I was worried that this second installment would bring nothing new to the series. Well, I worried for nothing, because Ashen Winter is a worthy sequel with everything we loved about Ashfall - with higher stakes, bigger risks, and more merciless criminals than before.
This book reads like an action movie, only with more characterization and better writing. As much as I enjoyed the journey though, I wasn’t always on good terms with the main character and the decisions that he made; I understand why he did the things that he did, but that didn’t make me want to slap him around any less. Basically, every time Alex made a decision, I was scared for the characters and for my health, because I knew there was no promise that it would end well. It got to the point where I was pegging the ‘hero’ as just another too stupid to live character, until he takes the words right out of my mouth and says it about himself – after that, I felt like I could move on.
With fresh new characters, new obstacles to overcome, and new dangers threatening the little community there is left, Ashen Winter gives another terrifying look at human nature in unflinching detail, and a hero that isn’t perfect by any measure but is more than willing to risk his life for what is right.