Friday, August 12, 2011
Ascension by Christie Golden is the penultimate novel in the Fate of the Jedi series, and it lived up to my expectations as such by raising the stakes and delivering enough twists and turns to have me anxious to see how the final book will provide resolution. It is impossible at this point to separate out Ascension from the rest of the Fate of the Jedi series and evaluate it on its merits as an individual novel. I felt like Aaron Allston’s Conviction made a valiant effort at trying to be inclusive enough that a newcomer might be able to pick it up – but Ascension is only for those who have been with the series all along. The early part of the book is devoted to The Lost Tribe of the Sith, and the creature Abeloth’s first meeting with them and interactions with them on their world. On the one hand, it was very fitting, as the Tribe really feels more like Golden's creation (since she introduced them in Omen) and I just feel like she really knows how to write them and has a very clear view of their world and society. It's a great return for her to this plotline, even if they then proceed to disappear for a good portion of the middle of the novel. I liked how Golden (through the Tribe) admits that "we" still don't know what Abeloth's goal is. She does provide a very nice link by peeking at Abeloth's past, showing how she was betrayed by someone who loved her (or didn't love her, when she loved him/it) - in my mind that showed a direct connection between her past and her actions against Luke Skywalker (who she might see as an embodiment of her betrayer, hence choosing many of his former loves as her targets in order to punish him). But by the end of Abeloth’s visit to them, she has destroyed the Lost Tribe’s capital city and Gavar Khai and his fleet have sided with this creature against his own people. The political maneuvering is one of the highlights of this book, with the aide to the former Chief of State, Wyn Dorvan, continuing to be a very sympathetic character. He’s filling in as Chief of State as best he can, but knowing that he really doesn’t want the job. A number of other politicians make their rise in this book as well, a Klatooine rebel named who had been introduced in Conviction, and two new characters to this book, an inspirational female former slave turned senator, and Senator Suldar who will soon reveal his true nature. We get a return to the conspiracies against Jagged Fel, current Head of the Imperial Remnant in this novel as well. Meanwhile Luke, Ben, Vestara and Jaina are trying to track Abeloth, leading them to a number of different Sith worlds and various forms of traps. Vestara will have to face her father and make a choice about her future – but even if she chooses to go down the path of a Jedi, can she maintain that way of life after so many years as a Sith. The finale builds to a number of different tense conflicts – with Luke and his Jedi Order facing off against a powerful Mind Bomb trap meant to destroy the greatest threat to Abeloth’s rise to power, while the creature itself and the Lost Tribe of the Sith amass power as the new rulers of the Galactic Alliance on Coruscant. Ascension also delivers what I thought was a rather epic space battle – Imperial vs Imperial with some surprise guests and a few new tactics that rank among some of the more inventive I’ve seen in a while. There are some problems with Ascension, though they were not enough to prevent me from enjoying the book. Abeloth betrays the Lost Tribe at the beginning of the book, only to work together with them again at the end to amass power (and it seemed way out of left field for Abeloth to become Chief of State of the Galactic Alliance as well). There was also a red herring in terms of a planet that is introduced early in the novel which seems important – and a bunch of characters appear to be on a crash course to meet there – only it never happens. Even so, Ascension is still one of my favorite novels in the Fate of the Jedi series (up there with Abyss, Omen and Vortex). The real issue in Ascension is that the misstep is an obvious set-up for the final book, so how much of that is actually Golden’s fault as opposed to it just being what was needed to be set up for the finale? Because it functions as this kind of bridge novel, taking the characters (and the reader) from where the story left off at the end of Conviction and setting up the story for the finale in Apocalypse, it’s hard to criticize some of the plot choices that were made in this book. This is a large Star Wars book, with lots of plots and in my opinion fairly consistent personalities for these characters (and a return to proper characterization for some like “crazy Daala”). I -still- say that Golden is the "find" of Fate of the Jedi. She has done the heavy lifting in terms of developing the Lost Tribe and in general her books do carry the plot forward. Ascension rises to the level of true epic in terms of the cast of characters and the culminations and ramping up of so many disparate plot points. I was willing to overlook some of my annoyances with the plot because of the scope of the book, and as I said at the very beginning, I look forward to seeing how this all gets resolved in the final Fate of the Jedi novel.
Posted by Jim Haley at 8/12/2011