Ashen Winter (Ashfall (Trilogy - Hardcover))

Ashen Winter - Mike Mullin First, I'd like to apologise for cussing out Mr. Mullin's name for the first third of the book. I told myself it was only a book but it got to me. Action, terror and death almost from the very first page. I was on edge, longing to shout at Alex to shut up and listen to his woman. I decided to go without sleep at about 33%, sleep is for the weak anyway. I needed closure and I needed it NOW! I saw some of those bad things coming, they were inevitable. But...but...I got scared. Alex + Darla = formidable team, so when they got separated, in a most terrifying manner...MUST READ NOW!Alex arrived at his uncle's farm in October, it's now April and they're experiencing a perpetual winter. No effort has been made to rebuild infrastructure or establish order. The US still appears to be in political turmoil and rumours abound. Finding Alex's parents and rescuing Darla has us re-tracing their path from Ashfall; passing through another FEMA camp and reuniting with old friends like the fearless old librarian Rita Mae from Worthington (great woman) and old enemies like Black Lake and Colonel Levitov. "Without children we don't have a future.""Without freedom," Rita Mae yelled back, "why would we want a future?"When I thought over Alex's actions leading to his separation from Darla and everything up to that point I realised he wasn't just an overly generous softie and arguably stupid (which he freely admits: "I'm too stupid to live. I should have never dragged Darla back out here, not for anything."). The negative adrenaline-pumping and usually deadly consequences could have unexpected silver-linings. He gains allies, information and supplies as well as lessons in future dangers by observing other towns and meeting new people. Like I previously mentioned in my Ashfall review there's a delicate balance of luck and karma. If the characters are praying for something good to happen there may be a miracle but there will always be payment. Nothing is free.However, I could only hold my breath in desperation and fear for these characters, whilst they were apart, for so long. I couldn't maintain that level of anxiety and slowly I became detached and less interested in what was happening. And so I turned to skimming. Darla was sorely missed although I completely understand how her absence played so well into the plot and the original mission: to find, and if alive, bring home Alex's parents, as well as the subplot involving missing and presumed kidnapped, girls. The way everything just slots into place gives the illusion of mild predictability when really it's a natural progression of events.I love Darlex (Hehe, that's so Dr. Who but much better than Peniss) having built a strong relationship in the first book (ETA: Emeli Sande's Next to Me describes it perfectly), have it tested and re-affirmed (thankfully) in this one. Absence made the heart grow fonder despite my worry to the contrary."If we're going to die anyway, I want to die with you. And if we live, I want to live with you."I sincerely hope they manage to achieve their dreams of one day marrying and having children when life becomes stable and prosperous. But on a sidenote: those childbirth death certificates were heartbreaking.I have a new favourite character -Ben. Ben suffers from Autism Spectrum Disorder with social and communication problems, is incredibly intelligent and is an expert in all things military. He's a huge asset. One time he corrects his hostage-takers on their strategy, advising them on how to tighten up their formation. Jaw-droppingly hilarious. I sympathised with Alyssa, Ben's carer and "sister unit", and her attachment to Alex. Oh, that was sad. I was both shocked and as uncomfortable as Alex when she enacted her strategy with the gang. That took courage. She was stronger than she knew.I've got to give the author props for his increasingly sickening and gory yet realistic portrayals of the fight for survival. Ripping away childhoods and replacing them with the cold, dark and horrifying reality. Showing how any decent and honest person can become an unrecognisable monster. Alex's father may have been on that slippery slope when he does something that requires the suspension of compassion i.e. torture. I'm glad that Alex's father finally came to understand Darla's importance after witnessing the changes in his son: his new strength and maturity. "Responsibility's a cruel bitch. She comes for you whether you want it or not."His sacrifice was heroic. Both he and Alex's mother had big brass balls playing chicken lighting up that propane tank. The emotions, action and characterisations in these books are superb. I'm eagerly awaiting the next book. Go, Warren! Go!P.S. If you ever hear the words "flensers" and "long pork buffet", RUN FOR YOUR LIFE!3.5 stars.***My thanks to Tanglewood Press for the ebook in exchange for an honest review.***