Ascendancy (The Godswar Series)

Ascendancy - Jennifer Vale Originally reviewed at Bookwraiths Reviews

This is one of those books that I picked up because it just looked interesting, and I was not disappointed. Now, Ascendancy has its fair share of problems like most e-books: wordiness and a lack of refinement, i.e., need some editing. However, the story itself with its strong characters and interconnecting plot lines was a pleasant surprise. The world of Obsidian with its mighty Paladins, Aether-wielding Ascendants and Bound, and the fractious empires were a great pleasure to read about and left me wanting more.

SETTING

Two millenniums ago, a race of Immortals came unto the world of Obsidian. At first, they were helpers and bearers of knowledge to the peoples of the world, but soon they “changed” and ruled the world as living gods. At some point in that distant past, a spark ignited the Godswar, where all the Immortals were destroyed and nearly all life obliterated on Obsidian. However, as they faded from the world stage, the Immortals left behind a final wondrous gift: Aether.

Aether is a fine mist of energy surrounding and permeating the very air of Obsidian but is visible only to the Ascendants, their followers the Bound and the Unbound (wild magic users.) When channeled by those with the aptitude, Aether enhances one’s senses and perceptions and allows the shaping of energy and matter. It is the “magic” of the world. With this wondrous gift, the races of Obsidian heal their lands, carve out continent wide kingdoms, and build civilization to heights never dreamed possible.

But with all these new Aether-users, how would the races protect against a new Godswar descending upon Obsidian?

Learning from the self-destruction of the Immortals, the peoples of the world establish a system of control over Aether-users by the use of Ascendants. These gifted people have absorbed the memories of an actual Immortal. When this process is completed (and many die trying ), the Ascendant then “binds” other mortals to his/her power, making them a Bound; a symbiotic relationship where the Ascendant allows the Bound to use Aether and the Bound is monitored for unlawful or destructive use of his/her power. If a Bound acts inappropriately, the Ascendant immediately cuts the Bound off from Aether. In this way, a single Ascendant can bind to himself hundreds, if not thousands, of others and supervise their behavior.

Like all things, however, this fail safe is imperfect, for there is always a handful of people who can control Aether without need of an Ascendant. These Aether-users are called “Unbound” and are hunted and placed into what I think of as “asylums” to guard them against destructive use of their power. But even with this small flaw, the Ascendant system has allowed Obsidian to exert a modicum of control over all Aether-user and maintain a fragile stability.

This is the world where the novel Ascendancy takes place.

STORY

The prologue to our story is set in the Kingdom of Galvia, which is being invaded and conquered by the Crell Imperium. Up to this point, Galvia has been a buffer state between the Solarian Alliance and their more warlike neighbor the Crell Imperium. (I thought of these powers being in the mold of the U.S. and the U.S.S.R. with pre-glasnost West and East Germany as Galvia. It just made things easier for me to follow.) During a final battle in Galvia, we are introduced to many of our main characters: Tevek Dracian, Highlord of the Knights of the Last Dawn, Ethan Moore, greatest general of Galvia, Selvhara Narhesti, elysian (think of LOTR elves here) Aether-user, Jason Moore, son of the aforementioned Ethan, and Krystia Tharule, orphaned child who is also an Unbound Aether-user.

These people are thrown together in this last desperate battle to get us acquainted with them more than anything else, because the battle is a desperate last stand against the Imperium. When the battle is lost, Galvia is gone, and the two, great, continental powers are now unhappy neighbors: each knowing that war is inevitable, and both plotting how to throw the first punch to gain the upper hand. To complicate matters, there is a group of freedom fighters in Galvia who are diligently trying to take back their own land from the Imperium, and they desperately want aid from the Alliance. It is a fragile “Cold War” which now grips the land as the “real” story begins.

Several years pass after Galvia’s fall and into this mess comes a band of relic hunters, i.e., they are grave robbers of ancient burial sites. The leader of the band is none other than Jason Moore, son of Ethan Moore. His closest companions’ Tam, Gor, and Selvhara Narhesti aid him in his hunt for the “big score.” You see, Jason has finally uncovered the mother-load of tombs: an ancient queen from before the Godswar, which will hold enough treasure and relics to make all four of them rich beyond their dreams.

Unfortunately, once Jason’s band enters the tomb and “acquire” the treasure, they begin to be hunted, but they have no idea why the Crell Imperium cares about their tomb robbery. So with nowhere else to go, they head toward the Galvian resistance, where Jason and Selvhara know many of their old companions from the war and believe they can obtain protection and information. However, as they travel, their pursuit becomes more and more determined to stop them.

An empire away, General Darius Iouna of the Sixth Legion of the Solarian Alliance is tired of politics. He knows the Imperium intends to attack his country, and he has a plan to destroy them first. The only thing preventing him from taking action is the politicians, whom he despises. But he keeps trying, and his lover, Krystia Tharule, now a healing priestess of Areekan, encourages him to continue on his quest.

Krystia is herself an enigma; a young priestess who has already established herself as a powerful healer and is - for all practical purposes - the adopted daughter of Highlord Tevek Dracian yet has a dark side that no one sees. For Krystia is an Unbound you see, and her most guarded secret is her desire to free all her unbound brothers and sisters that are forcible held in the Unbound Asylum. It is a cause which she has hide from everyone including Darius, but for which she has become ever more actively pursuing - even making common cause with shadow persons in the Galvian resistance. It is a cause Krystia is even willing to commit treason to accomplish, for what loyalty can she have to an Ascendant who would lock away someone just because they were born unbound.

And in the Crell Imperium things are a stir. Vice Admiral Onar Tenel is called to meet with the Zarul: the Crell Imperium’s Aether-user secret police. Onel is concerned about his summons, because no one who runs afoul of the Zarul ever is seen from again. However, Alexandra Damir, Sovereign of the Zarul, assures Tenel that has committed no treason but is needed for his military ability. For war with the Solarian Alliance is coming, and there are assets upon the strategic board that must be analyzed and decisions made for their movements. These “pawns” in the game of war stretch from an Ascendant assassin in the Solarian Alliance to a demon-wielding resistant fighter in Galvia and even unto something that a grave robber in Galvia uncovered.

The story that ensues after this initial ground work is laid is very interesting to say the least. Jennifer Vale switches from one plot line to the other with little difficulty, weaving them each into a splendid tapestry of action, intrigue, world building and character development. None of the main characters are one dimensional in the extreme, though of course there are a few who lean that direction. Even the “bad” guys are not 100% evil but have good reasons for their behavior; no matter how disturbing that behavior might be. Especially “cool” to read about where the paladins over which Highlord Tevek Dracian presides; they were the epitomes of sword and sorcery (Aether here) wielding warriors, and I found myself looking forward to seeing them in action whenever the story allowed.

I won’t go so far as to say this is the best book I have read this year, but I will say that it had lots of great ideas that were combined nicely to make it an interesting read. I would recommend any fantasy reader to try this one out even with its editing issues.