Ashen Winter is the second book in the dystopian series Ashfall by Mike Mullen. The series is set after a super volcanic eruption at Yellowstone plunges the United States into chaos and follows teenager Alex Halprin as he tries to find his girlfriend, Darla, who has been kidnapped by a cannibalistic gang, and his parents, in the dangerous post-eruption world. I have to admit I haven't read the first book, Ashfall, but was surprised how easy it was to get into this as a stand-alone story. There were a few references to the events in Ashfall but they were written in a way which meant those who hadn't read the first novel could flow the story easily.
Ashen Winter is the best book I've read in a long time, I literally could not put it down. The book flows brilliantly with just the right pace to both cover the details and move the story along. There are some fantastic moments of suspense, such as when Alex becomes trapped in a cannibals garage. Alongside some very poignant emotional moments - where you really feel for Alex and his companions - there were a few tears shed whilst reading it. One of the great aspects of Ashen Winter is the excellent characterization, each character is fully fleshed out, believable and with their own take on the situation. The plot was utterly realistic, there were no miracle recoveries from injuries or lucky breaks, and I was really pulled into the story. The ending was satisfying and wrapped up the story nicely, whilst leading onto the third, as yet unpublished book.
Overall, a fantastic book for fans of dystopian fiction, and one which I think would also do well as a young adult read. It doesn't matter if you have not read the first novel, it makes a good stand-alone story, although I've already ordered a copy of the first book and will be keeping my eyes peeled for the third due 2014.
A Kindle version is available from Amazon for £7.43.
[A ARC was provided by NetGalley]