It is a well known fact that the second book in a trilogy tends to be the weakest book of the series. It drags, it sets up the story for the epic conclusion, and it is simply an all-round fest of boredom for the reader. Mike Mullin’s Ashen Winter however, is (thankfully) one of the few exceptions to this rule. Ashen Winter is filled with danger, romance, and heart-pounding action that is certain not to disappoint. While Ashfall followed the story of Alex and his journey to reach his parents in Warren, Ashen Winter follows the journeys of Alex and Darla as they struggle through the freezing cold winter to find Alex’s missing parents. The story opens with the two finding a gun that belonged to Alex’s father in the possession of a bandit – a rogue who clearly has information about the current whereabouts of Alex’s parents. However, if Alex and Darla found travelling through the snow to reach Warren to be difficult, this endeavor only proves to be more of a challenge this time around as now the people are more desperate, more ruthless, and the weather has only turned more brutal. Furthermore, the support they have always depended on from one another just may be ripped away and Alex may find himself searching for more than just his parents in this scintillating sequel. In all honesty, I did not enjoy Ashen Winter nearly as much as I enjoyed Ashfall. That being said, I still think that Ashen Winter was an extremely respectable follow-up novel to Mullin’s surprising debut and like its predecessor, it managed to keep my attention while I flipped frantically through its pages, unable to stop reading. What I liked best about Ashen Winter though, was the fact that Mullin really took human nature into account. In this novel, we are exposed to the more savage, unrelenting side of humanity and are shown to just what extents people are willing to go to get what they want and live. Ashfall showed us some of these extremes, but Ashen Winter truly went deeper. As more time passes by while humans are forced to survive in the raw wilderness that is now their home, a far more brutal and ugly side of despair and what it can do to you is shown. I felt as if all this was very realistically and effectively portrayed through Alex, who proves to be an engaging and empathic narrator once more. Speaking of Alex, I really enjoyed seeing his character development throughout this novel. The volcanic eruption that turned his life upside down also managed to make him into a tougher, strong-willed, and more morally aware human being. His interactions with Darla, his family, and other complete strangers all slowly exposed different sides of him that we weren’t able to see as much in Ashfall and I think the manner in which he grew was very realistically portrayed as well. There is a lot more I wish I could say on the matter of Alex, but I would hate to reveal any more for fear of spoilers. Thus, I can only assure you that Alex continues to be the determined and faithful protagonist that we all fell in love with in Ashfall and Mullin only makes it easier for us to side with him, root for him, and revel in his unique narration. That being said, Ashen Winter did have a major flaw that I was unable to reconcile with. One of my absolute favorite characters was not present for over half of the novel and this loss was felt very keenly. Although I did like seeing the impact this had on Alex and how it drove the original plot-line of the story, I definitely would have enjoyed this book more if that character were present for just a little bit more of the book. In addition, I felt as if some areas of this story tended to drag and only the last couple of hundred pages truly seemed to pick up the pace. Yet, these are small qualms to have with such a brilliantly written novel and although I frowned upon them, I still managed to enjoy this novel despite it. Ashen Winter is a truly spectacular sequel to Ashfall - one that leaves you satisfied, on the edge of your seat, and waiting for more all at the same time. I can definitely admit that the most difficult part about reading this book will be waiting for the third installment in this amazing series to release. Mike Mullin has quickly become not only one of my favorite authors, but an author to definitely watch out for. Not only is his work extremely well researched, fantastically written, and remarkably balanced out with action, suspense, romance, and relationships, but he also does not hesitate to reveal the darker aspects of humanity and the gory parts of human survival. This series has quickly become one of my most anticipated reads every year and I can guarantee that fans of Ashfall will not be disappointed by this far-from-disappointing sequel! Thank you to NetGalley and Tanglewood for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for a honest review. You can read this review and more on my blog, Ivy Book Bindings.