by Mike Mullen
In this second installment of the Ashen series, Alex and Darla have found a home on Alex’s Uncle’s farm. The first chapter starts with action and the excitement doesn’t pause until the end. The farm is attacked by bandits, and while Darla and Alex fight the bandits off, they discover that one of the bandits is in possession of Alex’s Dad’s gun. With renewed hope that his parents might still be alive, Alex and Darla decide to embark on a new quest to find them.About a year after the volcanic eruption that sent the world into chaos, the environment beyond the boundaries of the farm have further deteriorated. Food is nearly non-existent. Cannibals, aka, “Flensers” have become the norm, and girls are being captured by gangs to be raped and used as slaves—all circumstances proving that humanity will descend into depravity given the direst of conditions. Yet, Alex and Darla continue to believe that a future is possible, a future with family and morality, despite the gruesome happenings they see as they follow the clues to Alex’s parent’s whereabouts. And it isn’t just the ex-convicts that have gone rogue. At one point, a former bookkeeper admits to his sins, and without spoiling too much, Alex even discovers that members of his own family have become ruthless to the point of brutality in order to protect their own. This bedlam rings true; no doubt the world would descend into such base actions if starvation and want ruled. However, what does not ring true in the novel is Alex. Alex continues to make choices that endanger Darla out of his idealistic need to do what’s right; this works. Alex feels guilty for putting Darla in danger; this works. Alex becomes a foil to the world around him and a model for what we’d all like to be in such conditions; this works. What does not work is Alex’s superhuman body. Indiana Jones step aside. At one point Alex, despite having a recovering bullet wound in his shoulder, hangs by his hands from beneath a moving vehicle from one town to the next. And the fun doesn’t stop there; time and time again Alex performs feats that are physically impossible for a guy in his poor condition. After a few of these stunts in a row, I caught myself sighing and rolling my eyes, wishing I could suspend my disbelief just a bit longer. Additionally, Darla’s survival without molestation after being taken by the gangs does weaken the believability of the plot. Perhaps the author chose to avoid this outcome given the violence in the rest of the novel. Despite these weaknesses however, I still stuck with the story. Alex is loyal land kind, Darla is street-smart and strong, and I am totally invested in the lives of both. Let’s face it—I wanted to know how things turned out! I wasn’t disappointed in the exciting cliffhanger conclusion, and I look forward to the next installment, which, by the looks of things, will be just as exciting as book one.