Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin
It’s been over six months since the eruption of the Yellowstone supervolcano. Alex and Darla have been staying with Alex’s relatives, trying to cope with the new reality of the primitive world so vividly portrayed in Ashfall, the first book in this series. It’s also been six months of waiting for Alex’s parents to return from Iowa. Alex and Darla decide they can wait no longer and must retrace their journey into Iowa to find and bring back Alex’s parents to the tenuous safety of Illinois. But the landscape they cross is even more perilous than before, with life-and-death battles for food and power between the remaining communities. When the unthinkable happens, Alex must find new reserves of strength and determination to survive.
First an admission – I didn’t realise when I started reading Ashen Winter that this was the second book in a trilogy, bad research on my part. That said, I was up to speed pretty quickly, and though I may have missed some of the references to book one, I don’t think I suffered too much not having read part one.
The main premise of this novel is a frightening one; in fact, probably the most realistic apocalyptic event I’ve read this month. The Yellowstone super volcano is going to erupt eventually and there will be consequences that are going to be felt across the world. This fact alone makes this story all the more engrossing.
I like the way the author has so effectively captured the breakdown of society. The story begins some months after the eruption and communities have started to live far more insular lives. They concern themselves with trying to protect their meagre resources while violent roaming gangs attempt to take everything they can by force. The thin veneer of civilization is starting to crumble, and many people are only looking out for themselves. It’s almost Darwinian, survival of the fittest and all that.
Through their travels, Alex and Darla meet many people, some are striving to keep civilisation alive while others are reverting to a more animalistic existence. The most unpleasant of these groups are the ‘flensers’. I wouldn’t want to spoil the surprise by telling you what they do, especially if you’ve never come across the word before. Feel free to Google the word flenser though, you’ll get a good hint of what is going on. It’s always fun when an author manages to make me proclaim ‘Eeeuuuww!’ out loud.
Alex and Darla are central to the narrative but the character that really stood out for me was a young man called Ben. He is the brother of a young woman that Alex meets while on the road. Ben is pretty unique in his outlook and plays a key role in certain events. I’m not going to say any more than that, suffice to say I thought his character was great.
A word of warning – I don’t think that Ashen Winter is necessarily for everyone. Some of the situations are quite harrowing, more so by the fact this is pitched young adult novel, so if you are of a nervous disposition you may want to try something else. Remember, this is the end of the world after all. Characters do suffer quite a bit, and it’s not happy endings for everyone. Personally, though, I really enjoyed the story. Mullin’s writing manages to put a very human face on a global tragedy.
Overall I’m left with a genuine sense of curiosity about what is going to happen next. Various factions throughout the countryside are still at one another’s throats, in some cases literally, and there is no sign that things are going to improve any time soon. What there is perhaps, is just the tinniest glimmer of hope.
This is another impressive YA title that is well worth checking out, irrespective of your age. Ashen Winter is published by Tanglewood Press and is available for Kindle now and in hardback from 23rd October.