I waited a terribly long time between reading the first book, Ashfall, and this second book in the trilogy, Ashen Winter. I was slightly worried that I’d have forgotten where things left off. But this one jumped in with a big opening scene and I was immediately right back in the thick of things for Alex, Darla, and the others who have survived a super volcanic eruption of Yellowstone and sent their world into volcanic winter. They survived the eruption and the aftermath now they also have human dangers.
Ashen Winter is book two in a trilogy and I strongly advice getting it in order as it continues the story begun in the previous book.
Because this is a continuation, I will not be able to help some spoilers for the previous book so keep that in mind if you choose to proceed.
The story opens with Alex and Darla along with his uncle, aunt, and cousins fighting off an attack from a roving band of scavengers and thieves. In the aftermath, Alex discovers his dad’s shotgun in the hands of one of their attackers. His parents had left Illinois and gone back to Iowa looking for him, but have been gone a long time. It’s dangerous to be out in the cold, the ash snow, the stripped land with powerful criminal gangs and almost equally dangerous FEMA workers who put free roaming people into the bleak camps. He had to know what has become of his parents now that his dad’s gun has been found.
Alex and Darla head out on their bike sled, Bikezilla, with the pack of supplies and trade goods needed to track the roving gang and get answers. The trail is thin and fraught with danger. The situation in the zone most affected by the volcanic eruption has grown worse with cannibals, slavers, and the like on the loose and the merc agencies and FEMA soldiers more organized. The government seems to be taking a hands off approach to the disaster area so they are on their own.
But then the worst happens and the pair are torn apart by the strongest most ruthless gang. Alex must now rescue Darla and find his parents while avoiding capture in his own right.
Just as I noted before with Ashfall, I thought the author did a great job not only of describing the natural conditions following a super-volcanic eruption, but also the physical and social changes that would occur. People are reverting back to what they were thousands of years before when survival of the fittest wasn’t just a phrase in a textbook. Darla’s inventor mind and survivalist lore knowledge is paired with Alex’s knowledge of self-defense and strategy. They go through some tough situations that would break most people.
There is so much action and tight suspense situations that this book had me holding my breath and flipping pages fast. Alex narrates the story and he makes for a great main character with his flaws and strengths, but great determination to do right. He is a natural hero-type and wants to save and rescue almost everyone he comes across. He ends up rescuing a girl and her brother who is autistic while he is searching for Darla. They made a nice band of friends.
On a side note, I thought the portrayal of Ben who has autism was sympathetic and well written.
The story ends on an ominous note and I will not be waiting as long as before to get the final installment of the story.
I can easily recommend the Ashfall trilogy to those who enjoy YA Post-Apocalyptic Romance with more emphasis on the action plot though not absent of character development.