Almost a year after the Yellowstone eruption in Ashfall (2011), Alex and Darla are drawn back to dangerous Illinois, which has only grown worse.
Life on Alex's uncle's farm has settled into a routine, and while the eruption has triggered an extended subzero winter, Alex and Darla's heated relationship keeps them warm. When a small flenser gang—cannibals—attack the farm, they drop the shotgun that Alex's uncle gave Alex's parents before they ventured into Illinois looking for their son. This discovery prompts Alex—accompanied by the more competent Darla—to head out in search of his parents. After a false start and a disastrous run-in with their old enemies, FEMA military contractors Black Lake, the story picks up with an even more catastrophic run-in with well-organized cannibals. The encounter leaves Alex trying to survive without Darla's help, struggling against flensers who trade in humans—both as food (in explicit detail) and for sex (tastefully inexplicit). Alyssa, a former slave of the cannibals, and her high-functioning autistic brother, military expert Ben, join Alex's rescue mission. The human-driven gore is much more horrifying than in Ashfall, though the realism isn't as strong in the frequent action sequences. Alex's nuanced feelings toward Darla serve to ground the book nicely, though. The cliffhanger ending leaves readers craving the next installment—and dreading what it may bring.
A violent, desperate adventure in a chaotic, post-disaster world. (author's note) (Adventure. 14 & up)