This is one of those books that I picked up just because it looked interesting. And somehow I got lucky, because Ascendancy was a first class epic fantasy of war and magic.
The story takes place upon the world of Obsidian where two millenniums ago a race of Immortals emerged from the nether. At first, they were helpers and bearers of knowledge to the peoples of the world, but soon they “changed,” ruling the world as living gods.
Eventually, the “gods” turned on one another. Some slight igniting the Godswar, where all the Immortals were destroyed and nearly all life obliterated on Obsidian. But as they faded from the world stage, these creatures left behind a wondrous gift: Aether.
Aether is a fine mist of energy surrounding and permeating the very air of Obsidian. While invisible to most, the Ascendants, their followers the Bound (trained magic users) and the Unbound (wild magic users) can see and channel it, using Aether to enhance their senses and perceptions, even to reshape the very energy and matter 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 Aether-users, the wise of the world fret that a new Godswar is inevitable. How can they stop it?
A system of Aether-user control is established. A way by which an “Ascendant” binds others 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. In this way, a single Ascendant maintains control over hundreds, perhaps thousands, of Aether-users.
Like all things, however, this system of control is imperfect, for there are people who can control Aether without need of an Ascendant. These Aether-users are called “Unbound” and are hunted down, forcible placed into “asylums” to guard them against destructive use of their power.
No matter the flaws of the system of control, the Ascendants have allowed life to flourish upon Obsidian. But now war is brewing. A conflict that might be as destructive as the Godswar itself.
In the Kingdom of Galvia it all begins. This small buffer state between the Crell Imperium and the Solarian Alliance is being overrun by the Crell. During the last stand, many important characters are introduced; people who will go on to play huge roles in the tale to be told. Acts of heroism occur. Selfless sacrifices are made. People die. Children have their personality warped by the brutality they witness. And as it ends, a new world has been formed; one where world war is only a breath away and even the most insignificant personal acts may be the spark to ignite it.
From this start, Jennifer Vale crafts a story from multiple view points, jumping from the heart of the Crell Imperium to the halls of the Solarian Alliance to the backrooms of Galvia. Characters from the prologue return in different roles. New heroes and villains are introduced. Well intentioned people begin to do horrible things in the name of good. Crimes against humanity are committed to maintain peace. An object of power is found and sought by all sides to the coming conflict. And slowly, ever so slowly the world continues its unstoppable slide toward a cataclysm that it is not – and cannot – be prepared for!
All in all, Ascendancy was an enjoyable read. The plot had enough twists and turns to keep me interested; Jennifer Vale switched from one plot line to the other with little difficulty, weaving them each into a splendid tapestry of action, intrigue, and world building; none of the main characters were one dimensional – though of course there are a few who lean that direction; and even the “bad” guys were relatable – no matter how disturbing their behavior might be. But what sold me on Ascendancy was the Aether-wielding paladins, who were the best sword and sorcery equivalent of Jedi Knights that I’ve ever run across. To say these guys were dazzling doesn’t do justice to their dynamic duels and Aether casting.
Like many indie fantasy works, however, this novel did have its fair share of problems: wordiness and a lack of refinement being the most pressing issues. But with a bit more editing, tightening up of the storylines, and SOME MORE PALADIN ACTION, I think all that could be easily solved – or overlooked by a reader. 🙂
Now, I won’t go so far as to say Ascendancy is the best indie fantasy I have read, but I will say that it had lots of great ideas, some strong characters, and enough interconnecting plot lines to make it a pleasure to read. Hell, it even left me wanting more, which doesn’t always happen. For those reasons, I would recommend any fantasy reader try this one – if you can find it within yourself to overlook the editing issues.
Buy Ascendancy (The Godswar Saga Book 1) at Amazon.