Saturday, January 9, 2010

Review of Ascendant Sun

Ascendant Sun is the fifth novel published in Catherine Asaro's Saga of the Skolian Empire series. Currently, there are thirteen novels total in this science fiction series and chronologically Ascendant Sun comes after five other novels in the saga (it is not really sixth chronologically since there are three other novels following different characters set around the same time as this one). I would not recommend beginning with this book which is a direct sequel to The Last Hawk, the first book about the character Kelric. Although I think The Last Hawk is a decent starting point for the series, I do think it is a good idea to read Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas (in that order) before reading Ascendant Sun or you will miss a lot of what is going on due to Kelric's rather limited perspective.

Please note that Ascendant Sun begins soon after The Last Hawk ends, which means there will be spoilers for the previous book in the plot description. If you do not want to know what happened, skip down to the horizontal line, which marks the end of the plot description.

After spending eighteen years on the planet Coba, Kelric returns to the Skolian Empire only to find it greatly changed. The Skolian web has collapsed, Aristos are openly walking around, his parents are being held in protective custody, and many of his family members are now dead including his brother Kurj and two of his Imperial heirs. Kelric realizes he is now the only surviving Imperial heir but decides it is best not to reveal he is in fact alive due to the current political situation. Yet Kelric himself is dying and needs money and better medical facilities than are available nearby in order to be healed.

After receiving some care at a clinic Kelric is at least well enough to manage for a little while, although he will still die if not treated. He finds a job to earn some money and is later approached by a man who can pay him a great deal of money. However, this high-paying job requires that he travel to a place he'd really rather avoid - Eubian space. In spite of the risk of capture, Kelric accepts since he realizes he just might have a chance to do some good for Skolia.

So far I have read four of the books in this series in addition to this one - Primary Inversion, The Radiant Seas, Skyfall and The Last Hawk. Ascendant Sun is easily my least favorite book in the Saga of the Skolian Empire so far. All the other books were absorbing and difficult to put down, but I actually found this one difficult to get into and outright boring in a lot of places. There were certainly some great parts, but a lot of times I found myself reading this one just to get to the end instead of because I was enjoying it.

One of the reasons Ascendant Sun was disappointing was the incredible amount of infodump. The first couple of chapters covered the events in The Radiant Seas and there was also a lot of explanation about the empire in general and what occurred in The Last Hawk. It was probably intended to be accessible to readers even without being familiar with the other books in the series, but personally I don't think this book works well on its own at all anyway. The main moments I found satisfying were ones that I would not have cared about were I unfamiliar with some of the other characters and what had happened in Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. It was emotionally satisfying to read certain scenes because I had been following the plight of these characters.

All the explanations certainly slowed the book down, but that aside, it also just seemed a lot slower paced and less interesting than the other books although I'm not entirely sure what it is about it that kept me from being interested in what was happening at times. At first, I thought it was because it was mainly about Kelric and didn't carry on the main story, but I quickly realized that couldn't be the case. My favorite of the books, The Last Hawk, was all about Kelric and had far less to do with the other books in the series I've read so far on its own (although I suspect it will be important to the overall story arc just because of how it affected Kelric). Perhaps it is because for a while it seemed to be following a similar pattern as The Last Hawk but was missing the compelling setting and secondary characters (although there was one new character that I liked).

In spite of its failure to completely capture me to the same extent as the other books, it was not all bad. Kelric is still a character I enjoy reading about with his intelligence and introspective nature. There were a couple of interesting revelations from Kelric's time spent among the Eubians, and I do enjoy how Asaro manages to make a people with the need to torture others sympathetic and human - not good by any means, but many of them don't seem completely bad either. Two parts near the end also had me so excited I could have jumped up and down (if I had no dignity, that is) - not because they were surprising but just because it was so fulfilling to see them finally happen.

Although it is not the strongest book in the series, Ascendant Sun is not a waste of time for fans of the series who have read at least The Last Hawk, Primary Inversion and The Radiant Seas. There is a lot of explanation and slow parts to get through, but there are also some occurrences that are very rewarding to read about.

My Rating: 6/10

Where I got my reading copy: I bought it.

Reviews of related books (in chronological order):


Anastasia said...

It's probably the weakest of the Skolian books, and I believe I gave you that warning. There's a bit of a lull in the series in the middle - the next several books - Quantum Rose, Spherical Harmonic take place almost at the same time and the story doesn't move forward as much as I'd like (although they are more enjoyable books than Ascendant Sun, IMO. I also found the sexuality here distracting, too many sex scenes). Things do pick up with Moon's Shadow and Ruby Dice.

On a different note, I read Spicy Little Curses today, and it left me totally cold. Weird.

orannia said...

Hmmm. I still need to read Primary Inversion. A very lovely and close friend gave me a copy when I stalled part way through (so I could read it another time). Maybe it's me, but it seems to be a series you need to be inthe right headspace for...

Benjamin said...

Kristen, I pretty much agree with your review. Ascendant Sun was a bit of a letdown after the strength of The Last Hawk. I read the first six books (in publishing order) and this was about the point that I started getting bored.

Kristen said...

Anastasia - Yes, you did give me that warning - thank you. It helped to know that the rest of the ones I haven't read should be a lot better. Moon's Shadow and Ruby Dice are the two that I am really looking forward to reading. I've actually been putting off reading Ascendant Sun because I wasn't sure how it will be but decided to read it so I could get closer to reading those two.

I think you are right about the sex scenes - there were too many and they contributed to the feeling that it was moving too slowly.

That's too bad about Spicy Little Curses - sometimes that just happens. That's kind of how I felt about Goblin Fruit - it was weird because I thought the writing and the way that feeling of longing was captured were amazing. But the actual story just didn't do much for me.

Orannia - Primary Inversion was one of the books that got me hooked on science fiction. I always thought I didn't like it that much - then I read that and couldn't put it down. It can be very detailed in places, though, so I can see why you would have some trouble with it if you weren't in the right kind of mood for it.

Benjamin - Ascendant Sun was certainly a disappointment after The Last Hawk. If I hadn't already heard this was a weak spot in the series, I'd be a little hesitant about reading the rest after that one. (As it was, I put off reading this one for quite a while since you and Anastasia both mentioned that it wasn't nearly as good.)