Sunrise in an Ashen Winter

Finally! A YA series that is well-written and satisfying throughout every single volume. It's been so long since I read one of those! 

I have a feeling that some people might not like how different this is from the first two. Think of it this way: Ashfall=a survival novel, Ashen Winter=a rescue novel, Sunrise=a picking-up-the-pieces novel. 

In Sunrise, the characters are pretty stationary (in space, not in development). Alex and Darla are trying to make their encampment in NW Illinois work. It's all centered on his Uncle's farm and their ability to grow kale (no more scurvy, arrrrrr!). Unfortunately, the largest town nearby has been occupied by a ruthless gang of well-armed men, and Alex and his people want that town back. It's the first in a series of battles that occur in the book. 

Mullin does not pull any punches when it comes to wounding, maiming, or killing characters. As you read this series, you constantly question whether you could survive something like this. Could you trek across a state on homemade snowshoes? Could you learn how to butcher hogs? Do you know enough to make you valuable in a survival community? (I would probably be dead, but there is a surviving librarian in the book, so maybe there's hope for me yet) The frantic pace of battle is done perfectly, and the fact that no mercy is shown to the characters makes this brutally real. It's not like in Hollywood, where you get a last-minute-salvation from somewhere. 

Alex and Darla are probably one of my favorite couples in recent YA literature. They love each other very much. They don't even think about cheating on each other (this means NO LOVE TRIANGLE! Woot!). They recognize and appreciate the other's skills and abilities. Darla doesn't need Alex to "complete" here, and Alex knows that Darla will do what she wants. There's a ton of respect in this relationship. Plus, they've also chosen not to do anything that would mean Darla could get pregnant unless they have the supplies and resources to take care of a baby and have a safe birth. Smart kids. Very smart. 

You also learn a ton about hydroponics, well-digging, irrigation, sanitation, and engineering. Enough to make you realize how good we have it now, and how easily it can be taken away. 

I also love the variety of characters Mullin has populated his world with. It feels real. People do stupid things, selfish things, and totally wackadoodle things because that's how humans are. I particularly liked his inclusion of Ben, an autistic character whose fascination with all things military saves the camp again and again. There was also an aborted GLBTQ relationship that felt a bit tacked on (if Mullin had fleshed it out a bit more it would have been a lot better). The transformation that takes place in Alex's mom is scary but also very real. 

If I had one main quibble, it's that the main villain, Red, simply isn't given enough page time. He's really a fascinating character when he's introduced. His idea of the ideal settlement is to go back to ancient Rome. He's killer with knives and swords (literally) and is obsessed with all things Roman. He's also a megalomaniacal sex trafficker, murderer, and cannibal. I kept picturing the Governor from The Walking Dead, but shorter and with more swords. Unfortunately, after the big scene in the middle of the story, he kind of just disappears. I wish we had seen more of how he runs his settlement, why he is the way he is, etc. The final encounter really wasn't that satisfying.

All in all, a really great read and a fantastic conclusion to a fantastic trilogy. Highly recommended.

Note: I received an ARC of this book from NetGalley and the publisher. All thoughts in the review are my own and have not been influenced by the reception of this ARC in any way.


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