In many ways the penultimate book in a large series is the most difficult to write. The author must begin the process of weaving the various plot threads together, wrapping up some of the minor ones, introducing still new characters and subplots and positioning the characters for the concluding book. In the Fate of the Jedi series this task falls to relative Star Wars newcomer Christie Golden. Ms. Golden and the editorial team received a fair bit of criticism over her first book in the series Omen, both for its brevity and for its errors. Her second book Allies showed improvement and her third and final book she will be writing in the series Ascension shows marked improvement in capturing the modern Star Wars expanded universe. At 392 pages Ascension is a substantial tome, much larger then Golden’s first FOTJ novel that was a measly 236 pages.
One of the early scenes in the book features a Masquerade ball hosted by the Lost Tribe. This idea of a masquerade is at the core of Ascension. While many of the main characters are not at the ball, nearly everyone is presenting a false face of one sort or another. Characters reveal their true nature only to the reader or to a limited audience in the book itself. The drama in the book occurs when these masks slip and the characters true natures are revealed.
Keeping in recent Star Wars publishing tradition, we have a one word subtitle that has multiple meanings throughout the book. In Ascension, we have the rise of power and rank as well as the abortive rise and ultimate fall of some characters.
The relationship between Vestara and Ben and the machinations of the Lost Tribe and Abeloth serve as the backbone of Ascension’s story. The former is handled very well in my opinion, if you approach it from the perspective that anyone raised from birth as a Sith will be psychologically damaged. The issue of Vestara’s redemption and her relationship with Ben play a major role in Ascension and Golden sets up the relationship to go in some pretty dramatic directions in Apocalypse. The latter story involving the Lost Tribe and Abeloth is extremely well done. Chapter 4 of Ascension is the best chapter involving the Lost Tribe in the entire series and one of my favorite chapters in all of the recent Star Wars releases. Golden absolutely nailed the tone, the characters and the action.
Golden also did something in Ascension that I didn’t think was possible, she made me enjoy and buy into Abeloth as a Star Wars villain. If you have read my previous reviews of the Fate of the Jedi series, you will know that I am not a big fan of the Abeloth character. Abeloth is a character that I found unbelievably bizarre and too powerful. The slow reveal of more and more of the character was also frustrating, in a nine book series, I would like to know the nature and motivation of the main villain before the next to last book. I understand they are trying to build suspense with a slow reveal of Abeloth and her nature, but until this book Abeloth seemed about as cool as Waru (from The Crystal Star) to me. There is one particular scene aboard Ship involving Abeloth that I really liked in a twisted kind of way. While Ascension does not answer all the questions regarding Abeloth, it gives me enough to embrace a character that until now I wanted absolutely nothing to do with.
I also enjoyed the return to some Bantam era storytelling, in which we see Imperial Moffs who are just competent enough to cause trouble, but not competent enough to take over the galaxy. We get what as far as I can tell is an entirely new Sith related planet and life-form, which was pretty interesting. We even get an inclusion of the phrase that this blog is named after, where one of the characters is called out for saber rattling.
There will be those who criticize some of Ms. Golden’s characterization; there are two characters in particular that seem a little too pure of heart. I don’t necessarily think this is out of character for the two individuals, but in a real world sort of way, they seem a little too selfless. This is of course balanced out by the fact that some of the villains are of the mustache twirling pure evil variety. This I think is in keeping with the story telling tradition from the original trilogy and something that the EU has gotten away from with its move towards more anti-heroes and conflicted characters. That being said I believe Ms. Golden did a great job in her portrayals of Ben, Vestara, Jag, and Han.
Ascension is also loaded with some rather interesting foreshadowing that connects the Del Rey publishing line with the future of the Expanded Universe as told by Dark Horse Comics in its Legacy series. I think we have a very good idea where at least one of the coolest elements of Legacy came from and whose legacy it is.
Ms. Golden throws a skifter into the Fate of the Jedi series, but even with all the changes she introduces, she manages to move all the players into position for Troy Denning to wrap up the story in Apocalypse, only then will we learn what the fate of the Jedi will be. Ascension will be released Tuesday August 9th in hardcover, if you haven't already pre-ordered it, don't forget to set aside time on Tuesday to run to your local book store or download it to your e-reading device.
Author's Note: Special Thanks to the folks at Del Rey/Random House for providing us with an advance copy for this review. Also check back after Ascension is released for a spoiler filled discussion regarding the book and some speculation about where I think the story will go in Apocalypse.