Saturday, December 8, 2012

After the Ash Begins the Winter

Ashen Winter (Ashfall)
Alex and Darla made it through the insanity following the volcano in Yellowstone blowing, but they were far from unscathed. In Mike Mullin's Ashen Winter, Alex and Darla will risk their lives again (and again and again) for each other and for a little sense of normalcy in the madness they now call life.

The world is cold. With a year long winter after the eruption, the snow continues to fall and people struggle to stay alive, let alone stay warm. Even though they feel relatively safe at their aunt and uncle's house, there is something missing: Alex's parents. Before he and Darla arrived, his parents head left to look for him, heading out into the post-apocalyptic wake left by the volcano. Now Alex is convinced he has to go look for them. Knowing all the dangers out there, he is terrified to think of his parents all alone searching for him. Despite trying to convince Darla to stay behind, she won't leave Alex's side. Together they set off on a fool's mission against all kinds of monsters and demons... unfortunately, these are the incredibly human variety.

They don't make it far before they encounter trouble. The world has taken a deep turn for the worse and  the reality of that fact doesn't take long to soak in. They don't take unnecessary risks, but still, it isn't long before Alex's inability to sit by and watch an ambush of cannibals against innocent people leads to an accident where Darla is shot, falls off an overpass, and lands on top of the cannibals' truck. Alex will do anything to get Darla back, even if it means abandoning hope of finding his parents. But his travels are dangerous and give him an unwanted view of the way the world is, complete with kidnapping, rape, slavery, and most repulsive, the trafficking in human meat. Will Alex save Darla, or is he doomed to lose everyone he loves in this frozen, ash-covered world?

I must warn you that if you aren't prepared for a dark post-apocalyptic story, this isn't the series for you. It is brilliant and realistic, but it is certainly mature. If you question a student's ability to handle this dangerous and violent world, I would save it for when they are a little bit older. That being said, this is an amazing portrayal of what could really happen if the supervolcano were to blow. Do you think it would be all kittens and tulips? Then you would probably be one of the first to go at the hands of flensers or bandits. So, I have to say that while I would choose the student to pass this series onto carefully, I would be sure the right student would be just as enthralled with it as I was.

Since the first book, the situation has gotten worse. And why wouldn't it? Are our governments really so selfless that they wouldn't tuck and run as everything swirled down the toilet? But the thing I love the most is these characters. Even though Alex wants nothing to happen to Darla, he can't seem to help himself from sticking his neck out for other people. And there are others, too. People they come across who are willing to help others, and it is those people who will struggle with this new world the most. They will crave teh morals of a world that has passed and despise the new world order that makes them a dying species. It is a terrifying and fascinating examination of the human species, and I will bet you won't be able to stop thinking about it when you finish the book. I know I couldn't. So if you are a fan of serious post-apocalyptic literature, pick up this series. You won't be sorry. But you might be terrified. I certainly was.

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