Reviewed at http://www.mandikayereads.com/archives/985 (2/24/12)When I reviewed Wither, I struggled to give it a rating. There was no such struggle this time around. It's not often that a second book is better than the first, but this is one occasion where it absolutely is. It didn't read like a middle book to me. The writing is amazing and the visual imagery had me believing I was actually breathing ash in the air right alongside them.This was a painful book to read. At every turn something went wrong for Rhine and Gabriel. It caused a physical ache in my chest just hoping that something good would happen (you'll have to read the book to find out if it did).This one is definitely much darker than the first, but I think it needs to be. Things always get worse before they get better - and I do have hope that things in this world will get better by the end of the series. It's been alluded to several times, but I can't imagine going through all of this - becoming so emotionally invested - for naught. And honestly, despite the dark and cruel nature of the story, it was always laced with hope. That's what kept me going through the book and what has me dying to read the next installment.Hope. Sometimes that's all that keeps you going.