Ashen Winter


Ashen Winter

Author: Mike Mullin

Publication: 2012 Tanglewood Press

Pages: 567

Overall Rating: bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Rating for Action:bth_5-star-rating_zps467d5332[1]

Quantity of Action:bth_4-star-rating_zps38e772a0[1]

Age Category: 13+

Brief Summary: Alex and Darla have settled into life on his Uncle’s farm, scraping out an existence as the volcanic winter deepens.  Then a sudden attack on the farm brings with it unexpected news of Alex’s parents – who disappeared back into Iowa, searching for him.  Alex and Darla decide to go after them.  They cross the Mississippi and find themselves in a world that’s more dangerous and depraved than ever.  When the unthinkable happens, Alex must draw on his deepest reserves of strength to survive and rescue those he loves.

Age of Main Character: 16

What I Liked the Most: Mullin does not know when to let up.  Every time I thought Alex had finally caught a break, Mullin threw a new obstacle in his path, a new and deadly challenge for him to overcome.  This is not a story you can relax into – and that’s a good thing.  The second you start to get comfortable, to think “Okay, Alex is fine now,” there’s a bandit attack, a blown tire, or some other disaster, ramping up the pressure on Alex and driving the book relentlessly forward.

There is some seriously dark material.  One scene in particular had me up at night, fixated on a single interaction.  Alex has just been trapped in a building occupied by a gang of cannibals.  There’s a meat locker, filled with hacked up human bodies.  And as he hides behind a broken down minivan one of the women calls out to her companion.  “Fetch some belly meat, would ya?”  The reply: “Mmmm, bacon.”  It had me shivering.

Like in Ashfall, Mullin has created a post-apocalyptic world that feels all too real, only this time around it’s even darker, deadlier, and more depraved than ever.  As you read it, you can’t help wondering – could this really happen?  Could I wake up one day to a volcanic explosion that would turn the world to hell?  If it ever does, I have the sinking feeling that our new reality would look a lot like Ashen Winter.

What I Liked the Least: It’s hard to think of much.  There were a few extraneous scenes that probably didn’t need to be there, but even those I sailed through.

How Good was the Action? Even better than in Ashfall.  The action here is written in loving detail and brimming over with fear and tension.  There are chases, fights, near escapes, even one scene where Alex is dragged along clinging to the bottom of a truck a-la Indiana Jones.   And as he scrabbled for a better hold, his backpack getting torn to pieces by the road, his head inches from the churning rear tire, I couldn’t help feeling like I was there, too.  This is action writing at its heart-pounding best.

How Engaging was the Story? I sailed through all six hundred pages in a few days – and with three kids to look after, that’s saying a lot.  Alex and Darla’s story, the constant danger, the grim ashen world, it all kept me riveted.  Mullin is just as good with emotion as he is with action, and I couldn’t help getting caught up in Alex’s frenzied quest to rescue his family – his anguished guilt, his love for Darla, his drive to keep going in the face of impossible odds.

Overall Assessment: This is an amazing book – probably one of the best post-apocalyptic novels out there.  It’s dark and terrifying, filled with action, brimming over with emotion.  It’s an absolute must read.  Go out and get it right now.

Profanity: None

Sex: Some.  There is some kissing and making out, but there are several references and allusions to more serious sexual behavior, including rape.

Violence: Yes.  This can be a bloody and visceral book.  People die, often in graphic fashion, the fights are brutal, and Mullin makes no attempt to disguise the fact that the gangs have resorted to cannibalism. 

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