I started reading Ashfall before going to bed. That was a BIG mistake. I ended up being up all night reading. And, not satisfied with looking at the sun coming up while tired as hell, I just couldn't stop. So, I picked up Ashen Winter and began reading it that morning. WITHOUT ANY SLEEP. Yes, I'm crazy. Nothing new here, so let's move on. I read the two books in a row and was done close to 1pm. Let's just say I slept until the next day, after I was done thinking about both books.
Although, I did quite enjoy Ashfall, Ashen Winter is a better book. That's ok. After all, on a first post-apocalyptic book you have to spend time with the world building and explaining all about the natural disaster. On a sequel you can focus on the ACTION and putting your characters through a lot of crazier shit. Plus, you're already invested in the characters. You KNOW them and you care a lot more about what happens to them. They're like friends. You worry about them, you cheer them on, and sometimes you want to slap the shit out of them. You know, the usual.
I grew to really like Alex. He's a great hero. He's courageous, softhearted, loyal, can kick your ass with Taekwondo, and sometimes a little stupid. When I say stupid, I don't mean that in the usual YA literature way, the "I'm only capable of thinking of the hotness of my love interest and nothing else". No, I mean the best kind of stupid, like "I'll put my life and limb at risk to save someone I don't even know in the middle on an Apocalypse, because I'm just too good a person". Alex's good heart is one of his best qualities and one of his worst. I wanted to smack him a couple of times, but I completely understood where he was coming from. I'm just not that noble. But I rather my heroes be noble, than hardhearted. Isn't that what makes a hero, a hero? Being nobler than his circumstances would usually allow? I have no problem reading about people that are way better than me. I actually prefer to.
Yes, things just explode around her because of the power of her awesomeness.
Darla. What can I say about Darla. I know: I LOVE THE SHIT OUT OF HER! I can't put how much into words, so this will have to serve as a representation of how much I like her:
Mike Mullin did something original here. Something that I wish more male authors would do, but especially female authors. He inverted the usual gender roles. Darla is not a simpering, helpless female who needs her man to save her. OH NOES! We usually have the Alpha male saving and teaching the useless female lead. NOT HERE, NO SIR. Darla is THE BRAINS OF THIS OPERATION. ALEX himself admits this. She saves his life quite often and besides that she is the one full of life-saving/useful information. She's also older than him, though not by much. She's the one with an amazing mechanical ability. She can build things, machines that make their life easier. She was a farmer and is fucking strong. At one point in the book someone asks them who is the stronger physically, and Alex doesn't hesitate to say it's Darla. Darla, herself thinks Alex is stronger, but throughout both books it's shown that Alex is probably right. She is also mentally strong. She loses her mom in a horrible way in the first book, but after a day of being a little out of it, she keeps going. Keeps saving Alex's ass. ALEX WOULD NOT BE ABLE TO STAY ALIVE IN THIS POST APOCALYPTIC WORLD WITHOUT HER HELP. Sure, he saves her life sometimes too, and he is pretty kick ass with taekwondo and all, but if I had to chose between the two of them for a partner during an apocalypse, I'd chose Darla. No doubt about it.
That brings me to my ONLY complaint about this book. I NEEDED MORE DARLA IN IT. Mild spoiler ahead: They get separated in this book, and she is not on the page as much as in the first one. She was sorely missed by me. I kept reading because I wanted her back. Alex shares my feelings and spends most of the book going after her. AS HE SHOULD, since it was pretty much his fault, his noble stupidity that caused her to be lost.
However, with less Darla we get some cool new characters. I completely fell in love with Ben. We meet Alyssa and Ben, who are brother and sister when Alex saves them thinking he is saving Darla. Although, I like Alyssa, Ben is the one who steals the show. Ben is a high-functioning autistic teen and he's adorable. He's in love with anything military and rants on and on about military/weapons facts. He's quite useful to have around. In one of the most priceless scenes in the book he saves everyone by criticizing the attackers wrong attack formation at great length and correcting their approach to it. Needless to say, I now want a Ben.
His sister Alyssa is a kind of tragic character. To keep her and her brother safe in this crazy new world, she has to use her sexuality. She's so used to doing it now, that it seems she can't stop. It's the only thing she has to barter with, and although that is quite sad, I respect her for it. It's in a bizarre way tragic and empowering. It's quite a dichotomy. I don't like to see women that are only as important as what they have between their legs, but the book does a good job of condemning it and showing how wrong that is. How very tragic women as sexual objects are. But, I don't see any difference between what Alyssa does and what French woman did in WWII. French women used to seduce Nazi officials in occupied France and pass what information they could gather to the French Resistance. It's the age old story of women doing what they can to survive and save their loved ones. And as a woman I cannot show them anything but respect and I'm sadden that some of my fellow women judge them for it. So, when Alyssa tries to entice and seduce Alex, it didn't bother me. She didn't know Darla and didn't owe her any loyalty. Plus, she was just doing what she thought was right to remain alive near one of the only good guys she met. But, when Alex kissed her back TWICE, I WAS BEYOND PISSED. He's the one that should have been loyal to Darla. I guess he was, because he stops it before it goes any further and explains again and again that he loves Darla. I can kind of understand his weakness, but I was NOT HAPPY with him. Keep your lips to yourself, my friend. How hard can it be? We women have been doing it forever.
The plot. Well, I'm going to summarize it as not to spoil you. Alex and Darla decide to leave his uncle's farm to go find his mom and dad, who left the farm in the last book to go find Alex. Alex gets a clue about their whereabouts and he and Darla (of course) go after it. Then shit hits the fan and it's again a fight for survival, for love and for freedom. It features a prison invasion, car chase with the hero on the roof of the car (AND a snowmobile chase across a frozen Mississippi river), a slave ring, cannibalism, escape from a refugee camp, black ops mercenaries, and various rescues operations. Oh, and some romance. It has non-stop action and heart. It's quite moving at times. I cried at different points in the story. Mostly, I was sobbing when his dad commits the ultimate sacrifice . I was bawling my eyes out. Pretty much like this:
I think I already convinced you to read this novel (if not, you're a lost cause). So, I'm gonna quit while I'm ahead.
Before reading the book:
I swear to God that if Darla dies in the book I WILL LOSE MY SHIT!!!! I'll fly to US, find Mike Mullin, and BEAT THE SHIT OUT OF HIM! Ahem.
Anyway, off I go to read it. THANK YOU, NETGALLEY!