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Fate of the Jedi: Ascension

Adrick's Rating

1.5/ 4

Wes's Rating

1.8/ 4

 

As Luke and Ben Skywalker pursue the formidable dark-side being Abeloth, the Lost Tribe of the Sith is about to be sundered by an even greater power--which will thrust one Dark Lord into mortal conflict with his own flesh and blood.

On Coruscant, a political vacuum has left tensions at the boiling point, with factions racing to claim control of the Galactic Alliance. Suddenly surrounded by hidden agendas, treacherous conspiracies, and covert Sith agents, the Jedi Order must struggle to keep the GA government from collapsing into anarchy.

The Jedi are committed to maintaining peace and ensuring just rule, but even they are not prepared to take on the combined threats of Sith power, a deposed dictator bent on galaxywide vengeance, and an entity of pure cunning and profound evil hungry to become a god.


Reviews

Adrick: There’s a lot going on in Ascension: conspiracies, infiltrations, betrayals, duels, witchhunts, wild goose chases, returns and departures. Some of it is interesting. Some of it is surprising. Some of it is nonsensical. Some of it is unintentionally hilarious. “This pot isn’t going to hold for much longer,” Han mutters at one point.

Anyone who has read the previous seven books in the Fate of the Jedi series should be familiar with the formula by now. Luke, Ben, and Vestara visit a Force-sensitive world, while Han and Leia deal with politics on Coruscant. Meanwhile, senators plot ominously in the background.

There are some enjoyable moments here. The group of political and military figures that have been scheming to seize control of the GA are delightfully diabolical in this installment. Their joy in pursuing power and duping the rest of the GA was entertaining to read, with just the right amount of over-the-top-villainy.

I also enjoyed the direction Golden has taken with the Vestara character, who finds herself forced to make a choice between her father and the Jedi. Her relationship with Ben becomes intriguingly complicated as the novel progresses, although Ben himself is not portrayed particularly well here. His wisecracks, which are fast becoming an unfortunate character trait, are intended to be endearing but just fall flat. “Come on, stinky,” he says after someone has just died.

Ascension does have its good points, but it’s not really enough to save the novel as a whole. Golden fixates on trivia—meals are often described in exacting detail—while more important plot points, such as extent of the collaboration between Abeloth and the Lost Tribe, are left vague. Although the method the Lost Tribe use to infiltrate Coruscant is creative, it’s never clear whether they do so with Abeloth’s help or if Abeloth hijacks their plan to suit her own purposes.

We also see a lot of news coverage...I confess to being a little weary of hearing characters tout the virtues of the Perre Needmo Newshour, a program whose main appeal is that it tries valiantly to cover the good news in addition to the bad. We’re also introduced to the oddly named BAMR News Network, which has been organized by the Sith to counter truth-friendly programs like, sigh, the Perre Needmo Newshour. The tale of how the Lost Tribe managed to overcome 3,000 years of isolation to run a major Coruscant-based news network in just three years would have been more interesting than much of this story.

Actually, a lot in this book happens in an astoundingly short period of time. Newcomers to the senate from backwater planets are elected Chief of State of the entire Galactic Alliance after mere weeks on Coruscant. Comic operas could be written about this premise, but it’s played straight here.

The tendency in Fate of the Jedi to use pointless missions to fill page space is here too. The Jedi decide to visit old Sith planets in hopes that they might find where the Lost Tribe is hiding…without any clues to point them in a specific direction, or even to indicate that this is, in fact, what they are doing. Thus there is a pointless sojourn to Korriban, where Luke and company wander around, poking at old Sith haunts, before realizing their princess is in another castle.

Ascension provides some interesting developments in the Fate of the Jedi storyline, but it’s not as focused as the previous installment. It’s essential reading for the series…but I have serious doubts about whether or not the series itself is essential reading.


Wes: The penultimate novel in the Fate of the Jedi series, Ascension by Christie Golden, offers more of what we've come to expect thus far, for better or worse: Luke, his son Ben, and Sith Apprentice/Ben's love interest Vestara Khai visit worlds with Force-sensitive groups, there's political unrest and conspiracies on Coruscant, and Han and Leia are set about doing busy work, wedged into plotlines that seem unimportant and in which they have little impact. What is slightly different about Ascension, however, is its structure. The first fifty pages are spent on the planet Kesh with the Lost Tribe of the Sith--an oddity for the series, but a much needed one considering how little we've seen of what's going on there over the last few novels. Unfortunately, Ascension does little to shed light on the goings-on of the Sith in that time, and instead adds more confusion about how their plans have taken shape in such a relatively short period of time.

The other irregularity in Ascension's composition is that the political wrangling actually consumes most of its pages, including a rather large chunk of the middle. In fact, this book is probably more focused on galactic politics than any previous Star Wars novel. The power vacuum left by Daala's ousting from the Chief of State's office in Conviction creates opportunities for more than one of the series' ambitious factions, leading to some cutthroat schemes and a bafflingly silly game of musical chairs for the position of ruler.

There are 3 different Chief of States in this novel, not even counting Daala. Two of them are newly elected Senators, having just arrived days earlier, the other has never held elected office before at all. This doesn't even bring up that the two Chief of States previous to this were Daala and Jacen, who were removed by force, and Palpatine's reign wasn't that long ago. How would anyone take the GFFA seriously? How are we supposed to? This is outlandish even for a fantasy sci-fi series like Star Wars.

On the plus side though, none of this is as preposterous as Daala becoming Chief of State to begin with.

Moff Lecersen and Senator Treen's long-running conspiracy unravels in a fairly unsatisfying way, appearing to have little impact on where the story ultimately ends up. More perplexing, however, is the sudden revelation that the Lost Tribe of the Sith has infiltrated all levels of government and even formed their own media empire. How did they manage to do this? There's no explanation given. We know the Sith have only been able to leave Kesh for two years, yet somehow they've managed to get Sith Lords elected to the Galactic Senate from other worlds. Did they trick entire populations into thinking they were one of them and manage to win elections to each planet's highest office in that time? Or did they just show up on Coruscant and say, "Hello, I'm Senator Whatsit from planet Whateverz--where's my office?" We even see one of these Sith on Kesh at the beginning of the book, giving the appearance that he managed to get elected to the Senate in a matter of days. I'm hoping Troy Denning takes some time to explain just how this all happened in the last novel, as it remains more than a little confusing to me how people who were riding on "Uvaks" two years ago could accomplish such a feat.

The Skywalker side of the story is pretty flat, overall. Instead of Vestara choosing between her father and Ben, that choice is taken from her in an extremely anticlimactic fashion. Luke's return to Coruscant is similarly disappointing. The series first novel, Outcast setup certain expectations for this storyline, that Luke would discover the reason for Jacen's having fallen to the dark side and "prove" his innocence to the courts in order to return to the Galactic Capital. Instead, with Daala now gone, Luke just kind of strolls in high-fiving his posse at the Temple. The Jacen plotline is completely dropped, as are all the requirements Luke was supposed to meet that were explained to us in detail at the beginning of the novel. Whether it's the case or not, it gives me the impression that the writing team didn't have a clear picture of where they were going with this story. It's certainly not a very satisfying way to end Luke's banishment from Coruscant, which has been a major plot point of the series, and in many ways the catalyst for much of what's going on.

Luke, Ben, and Vestara spend most of the novel searching Sith worlds for that wily "Ship", the Sith Meditation Sphere, and the Lost Tribe, whom they believe are helping the monster Abeloth. Along the way, they have a pretty cool but completely fruitless visit to Korriban, and I found it interesting that Golden's descriptions of the One Sith's hiding place was almost word-for-word identical to Troy Denning's in Inferno:

And standing at the mouth of this grim canyon was the ancient cloister Rak'k had promised, a complex of domed towers enclosed behind a high stone wall. Clinging to the wall exterior were remnants of a blue tile facade, each patch depicting an eye or claw or fang. At its base lay pieces of discarded machinery--portable deflector shields, depleted power core casings, antique laser cannon mountings.

From Ascension:

The complex, an ancient cloister, was encased by a high stone wall. The domes of the towers within were visible over the enclosure. The wall had seen better days. Once it had been covered in blue tiles, a sort of mosaic. The few tiles that remained depicted unsettling images--fangs, eyes, claws. Detritus that looked to be decades old was propped up beside the wall, and the pieces of odds and ends—depleted power core casings, portable deflector shields—had also seen better days.

Inferno:

Then she went to the gate-a four-meter slab of durasteel flaked with red scales of corrosion-and stood for nearly a minute without announcing herself.

Ascension:

He followed the wall down to the gate, a four-meter slab of durasteel. This, too, showed red flakes of corrosion.

There are a couple other instance of this, but I think you get the point. Now, before anyone gets the wrong impression, I'm not for a second accusing Christie Golden of plagiarizing Troy Denning here--they're working in a shared universe, telling a story together, and describing the same place. Could she have used different descriptions besides "slab," "flake," "red," and "corrosion"? Certainly. I admit it does seem a bit lazy to me. But mostly, I bring it up because here we have an author who wanted to know the details of something previously established in the Star Wars universe and actually did the work of looking it up. So hats off to Christie Golden for her meticulous research.

While Golden seems more comfortable writing the Star Wars universe than she did during Omen, and the writing is certainly better than her previous Star Wars efforts, her tics are still present in Ascension. She uses words or phrases in strange ways at times that hit the ear all wrong, and the dialogue that doesn't always ring true. It's difficult for me to take seriously Sith Lords who say things like "For shame!" or "For the love of the Dark Side!", and I really can't picture Han Solo using words like "beholden."

What's good about Ascension is some of the character stuff--more specifically, my three favorite Expanded Universe characters showing up from out of nowhere and being awesome. I'm not going to say who they are, as I don't want to ruin the surprise, but Golden does a good job capturing their nature and I'm keeping my fingers crossed that they show up in Apocalypse as well. I was very excited to see them, and freely admit that most of the points I assign this book in its rating has to do with their appearance.

Other characters are kind of a mixed bag. Jaina has a nice heart-to-heart with Vestara after a traumatic moment in the story that I thought was nice, though, as usual, she doesn't do much else in the story. I was pretty disappointed with the role Tahiri has taken on, as I'd like to see her do something noble again rather than be the body guard of a would-be emperor. She is quickly becoming the most butchered character in the EU.

But the biggest disappointment by far in Ascension is Abeloth. After creating an original and genuinely interesting villain, we learn that her goal is... to rule the galaxy.

Yeah.

Ascension is an eventful novel, but there's nothing here to really get excited about. As a means of building suspense for the conclusion of Fate of the Jedi, it largely fails, doing things we've seen done many times before--then doing them some more.


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