Ashen Winter by Mike Mullin follows his first book Ashfall. Mullin takes a different approach than many YA authors. Instead of the books continuing one main story line across all the books in the series, each book has its own journey or goal. In Ashfall, teen Alex stayed home for the weekend while the rest of his family went to visit his father’s brother, not knowing that a supervolcano was going to explode and change everything. Alex makes a heroic journey across a desolate landscape to reunite with this family.
In Ashen Winter, Alex and Darla have been living with his sister and uncle’s family when an unexpected event turns up an item that was in his father’s possession, spurring him to leave earlier than planned on a new mission to find his parents.
This book doesn’t have the type of monsters that many other YA dystopian books have. There aren’t any Dusts as in Pure, no zombies as in The Forest of Hands and Teeth, or freaks as in Enclave. However, what Alex discovers is a monster of the worst kind, man.
From the corrupt paid mercenaries, Black Lake, who round people up and imprison them in dire conditions in FEMA camps because they are paid by a quota, to flensers, bandits who have become cannibals, Alex struggles to do what he must to survive and protect his loved ones while still maintaining his humanity and morality. It is this inner struggle that is the heart of this book, though physical journey he takes to reunite with his loved ones is full of action that keeps readers motivated through nearly 600 pages, unusual in fiction of this kind. Alex has had to kill to protect himself and the people he loves, but he feels a tremendous sense of guilt and responsibility for his actions, even when justified. He is often taken aback by the hardness in some of the people whom he loves who have been baptized by the violence. In a world where a former accountant becomes a kidnapper and killer, who can predict how the actions you must take to live, will affect your personality, morality and ethics? And if the only way to survive is to change into something your previous self would be horrified to see, is surviving worth any cost?