Wow. This book. Wow. I'm speechless and I don't know what to say, so I am going to try and wing it. Like usual. I read Ashfall back when I first started book blogging. If I recall, it was one of the first books I ever reviewed. It may have even been before I started my book blog. I'm not really sure. Don't go read it though because I am sure that review sucks. I DO remember loving the shit out of that book. It was dark, edgy, violent, and really, REALLY, depressing, which in my opinion, is everything a proper post-apocalyptic novel should be. I am happy to say that I think Ashen Winter carried on the tone and themes of the original novel extremely well. I found it to be very consistent in voice, plot, characters, and setting. Most sequels have been disappointing so far for me this year, but not Ashen Winter.When reading and reviewing, I usually find that one element of a novel stands out more, be it characters, setting, or plot. I found this book, however, to be a perfect blend of all three. I felt that way about the first book as well. Alex and Darla are extremely strong and well-developed protagonists. They are easy to care for and root for. The development of both these characters continued in Ashen Winter to the point where they almost felt like real people. I found myself cringing, yelling, and fighting for my life right along with them. Well, not really, but you know what I mean. The plot in this one is even more suspenseful than the first--if that were even possible. Just when you think they are safe, the characters get thrown into another situation they have to solve their way out of. Every single chapter ends in a cliffhanger, which if I may be honest, got to be a little too much for me. Whereas I felt that Ashfall was more about the emotion AND plot, I felt that Ashen Winter was a constant action movie. I'm not saying I didn't like it, but by the end I did find myself thinking enough already. But even with those small complaints, I still really loved the story in this book. It was...there are no words. I'd like to talk more about the plot, but it's really hard to do that with sequels. I can say that the book starts out on Alex's Uncle's farm. Alex leaves to go look for his parents and then they are off on a whirlwind of bandits, cannibalism, kidnappings, rescues, etc. I know that doesn't give you much, but that's all I got to work with.If there is one specific place I think this book shines (though it shines everywhere), it is in its setting. Mike Mullin did a crazy amount of research for this book. If you don't believe me, just read the Author's Note at the end and look at all the places he went and the different people he talked to to make sure he got everything right. And it shows. He brings this post-apocalyptic landscape to life and it easily feels like you are right there with the characters and that this setting truly exists. It's frightening. It feels so real and it makes me wonder how CLOSE the world would be to this if a super-volcano actually erupted. I saw one reviewer that said the facts and the research got to be too much for them, but I have to say I disagree. It made me love this book even more. I actually LEARNED something while reading this novel. And that is something I always enjoy. Since this review is getting to be a bit lengthy, let me wrap it up. I loved Ben. I think the author did a fantastic job of portraying someone that is on the Autism Spectrum. But again, research. It matters. The knowledge of weapons, military vehicles, and propane tanks blew me away. I KNOW. Propane tanks. Shut it.A few small nitpicks from my Goodreads updates.. Can we just stop writing, "I let out a breath I hadn't realized I'd been holding" in fiction? I counted similar variations of this three times in this book. STOP. How many times in your life have you held your breath and not known about it? It is SO overused and makes me roll my eyes every time. While we are on the subject of eye rolling, I also got really irritated when Alex REPEATEDLY forgot to remove the safety from whatever gun he was shooting on several different occasions. Yes, I know. You are trying to build suspense. But it didn't work. Instead, it made me think that Alex was kind of a moron. It was entirely unnecessary and only served to irritate me. Also, there was a random line in this book that made me giggle. At some point in the book, it was written,"He swiveled his hips in my direction." We are talking about Alex's dad here. That's just ridiculous. How do you swivel your hips in someone's direction? Unless you are Elvis Presley, I just don't see it happening. It totally jolted me out of the story. PLEASE publishers, PLEASE remove this line from the book. Ummm, I'm done. Aside from the minor technical nitpicks, this was a really fantastic book. If you haven't started this series, remedy that immediately. In my opinion, Ashfall was one of the best dystopian novels of 2011, and this will be one of the best of 2012. There's a reason it has won awards. Read it. Just don't swivel your hips in my direction.