Review: Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin

Sunday, December 21, 2014
Title: Ashen Winter
Author: Mike Mullin
Genre: post-apocalyptic, young-adult, survival
Series: Ashfall #2
Pages: 584 (Nook ARC edition)
Published: expected October 14 2012
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 3.75/5

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.

Violence, mayhem, SUPERVOLCANO!, strong female characters who save the day, non-stop action and a fresh interpretation of the the end of the world. What are the things Mike Mullin does best for 1000 points, Alex? The same things that made me such a fan of book one, Ashfall, are once again here in now-established author Mike Mullin's second novel in his debut series. Don't let the 3.5 rating for the book one or the 3.75 for this deter you: I really enjpyed both of these books for these are both novels that are fast-paced, quick reads full of teenage survivalism in a world that is easily -- and frightfully -- imagined. For the first 500 pages of this doorstopper, I was fully and inextricably engaged in Alex's wild tale of cannibals, disaster and government shadiness - but a lot of that built momentum is wasted once the novel reaches the fourth and final act. Despite the disappearing girls plotline feeling and reading a lot like unneeded filler, Ashen Winter will be sure to satisfy fans of the first and to further whet their appetites for the final, forthcoming conclusion that the author has planned for this series.

Like the fist, this is a novel that makes you care about its cast of characters. Mainly Alex and Darla take the forefront of personal growth and development, but even Rebecca and the hard-as-nails librarian Rita Marie evoke pathos and emotion from the reader. It's easy to root for main protagonist Alex and love-interest Darla because they're real and flawed human beings. Unfortunately for Alex (and usually Darla), he's got a case of Terminal Good Guy Syndrome in a cutthroat world. He takes too long to learn, to listen, and others often suffer as a result of his unthinking actions, which directly leads me to another issue I had here. For what else does Mike Mullin do, Alex? He creates a great, strong, independent female character and then takes her out of the story for 64% of the novel (if I mathed that right). I missed Darla's steadying and capable presence - Alex suffers without her to make up for his deficiencies and vice versa. I may find her capabilities and talents to veer a bit into deux-ex-machina territory on occasion, but her absence was sorely noted. Alex's search for her also reinforced the déjà vu (déjà lu?) I had from Ashfall: There's a lot of running around from place to different place, trying to find and save [x person], while voiding the cannibals, and escaping from a government camp. Complain as I may, the twists and turns, and constant cliffhangers ( GAH! They don't need to be at the end of every single chapter! That's overkill, not creating suspense and drama with a tantalizing hook), kept me reading and I was emotionally involved with the story. I just wish it had been there had been a  more original approach used for moving the plot - and Alex- forward.

Some of the events in the novel are so over-the-top as the strain credulity in a novel about teenagers surviving a SUPERVOLCANO (duh duh duhhhhhhh). I'm all for original and fast-aced fun, but some of the things Alex get up to only Batman/Thor could've done. (Or maybe Evelyn Salt, like when he was jumping around on moving vehicles at high speeds.) The author sets the pace and tone immediately when Alex is on the run within paragraphs of the first page and it never really slows down from there. Even when I was dissatisfied with the plotlines pursued, they still crackled with suspense and drama. The antagonists leave a little to be desired: they're all uniformly and very evil. The first novel was more Alex vs. The World at large and the scope has been narrowed here in book two; it's more along the lines of Alex vs. All The Cannibals. This novel is on par with the first in terms of grisly scenes and unsavory characters so I would advise not eating while reading.

I had fun with this, but taking into account the filler plotline introduced late in the game, the been-there-done-that feel of the plot, I have to diagnose Ashen Winter with a case of middle-of-the-trilogy malaise. A lot of series seem suffer with handling the execution the bridging book between the introduction and the finale, and this seems to be one of them. It's more than worth a read and Mullin has certainly grown in terms of storytelling and honing his craft, it's just not perfect. Yet. Ashen Winter clearly builds on the foundation that was set down in Ashfall: Alex and Darla are stronger characters than ever: more aware and prepared for the world burning (or rather less metaphorically: freezing) around them.The detail used throughout this novel continue to remain on par with some of the best I've come across; even if you don't buy into this disaster scenario, Mullin can back it up and make it seem plausible for hundreds of pages. I have every hope that Mike Mullin will answer back with a jaw-droppingly action-packed conclusion and I will be standing first in line to read it.


  1. Wonderful review, Jessie! I have to agree - this wasn't as good as Ashfall unfortunately. I still enjoyed it, but I was SO upset that Darla was missing 97% of the time! >.< Plus, like you said, some the events in this began to become vastly unrealistic, but I am curious about the sequel. I wound up giving this one 4 Stars, so we mostly had the same rating - as usual! ;)

    Ivy Book Bindings

    1. I always can use more Darla - she's so fun and interesting to read about. Alex can wear me down after a while, but I still liked this!
      And we are pretty in tune lately, aren't we? I like to think we just have great taste ;)

  2. Great review, Jessie. I am still glad you enjoyed this book despite your complaints. I just finished a book that felt like it had excessive filler so I am a bit worried about that, and considering I have this book coming up for review soon...well, I'll read it but I am a tad bit worried. I think Ashfall was actually one of my first YA dystopian reads so I am anxious to get back to this world. I am glad to know it lived up to your standards.

    1. Thanks very much, Kara! I think Mike Mullin has a lot of talent, and just got a little confused for a while where he wanted this story to go in the end.

      Do you mean The Diviners? I think 600 pages is a lot! but your updates and review are what convinced me to pre-order it. I hope I like it as much as you did :)


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