Thursday, 30 June 2016

Multi-Arcs are the Key to Ascendance

The amazing Sacraments of Fire has some of the biggest set-up moments in Star Trek novels for some time.

So it's a lucky thing that David R George III gets to carry on the tale in his follow up, Ascendance. Given the fact that this is a direct continuation from Sacraments of Fire you can be certain that this review will feature spoilers so tread carefully.
Let's have a quick recap just to bring us up to speed. The Ascendants first featured in The Original Series novel Allegiance in Exile are on the rise and are now led by the "Fire" aka Illiana Ghemor, the Cardassian agent Kira was corrected to look like back in Deep Space Nine's Second Skin.

Illiana is pretty much narked at everyone and looking for a big win either at the Alpha Quadrant in general or Kira herself. Thing is (and keep up here) we have two Kira's in play. One from a future point after The Fall who is aboard the Even Odds and one from the point in time she was aboard Deep Space Nine during The Soul Key story and the Typhon Pact novel Plagues of Night as its commanding officer.

This is no way a novel for newcomers to the series to start off with. There's just too much going on and rather than saying skip it and move on to something else that's standalone, I'd actually recommend going back through the novels and starting at an earlier point to really understand this strand of the literary series.

It's fairly complicated even if you are coming to this book straight after reading Sacraments of Fire but stick with it because David R George III is one of Star Trek's best writers and just from the first few pages you know this is going to be a great story. Importantly this is a novel that spans two distinctive time periods. One in which Kira commands the original Deep Space Nine and the later one which follows The Fall series in which Ro is now in charge of the brand new space station. As you would expect it's all relevant and ties together as you read further and further into it but while David has, as always, built a very thorough and involving story with just about everything thrown at it (and you can see why it's over a couple of books), he doesn't forget his cast of characters. 

The first half of the book is solely charged with resolving the end of Ascendance and does have a heavy action orientation but the second section in the "present" timeline really does help carry Ro's evolution forward.  In the expanded literary universe she's become a very prominent character with a personality that has grown well beyond her mixed Maquis and Starfleet origins in The Next Generation. David R George III has really recognised the potential with Ro even though her journey is maybe a little forced from Starfleet opponent to commanding officer of one of its most strategic locations. Aside from around we do have the return of Sisko, Quark, Odo Nog and O'Brien from the TV series but there are a lot of characters operating on the station that will be unfamiliar to readers unless they've been following the novel series for some time. 

Learning about them might be best left to a session on Memory Beta and while some of them do have significant impact within the story such as Elias Vaughn and his successor Commander Stinson, you would get away with not being too knowledgeable about them as a lot of the crew do tend to pass through the story. David R George manages to keep the bulk of the story in line with recognisable people rather than diving off into too many literary creations.

That initial section of Ascendance does have its moments and does hat-tip to how far we have come since the end of Nemesis and the climax of Deep Space Nine especially in the brief examination of Ezri Dax's career when she's acting as second officer and acting commander of the station with all those thoughts of future opportunities that we as the reader know will come to pass with the Aventine. After the multi-novel arc that came with The Fall I'd hoped we would have stayed away from book-spanning stories for a while but it doesn't seem that long since we did. Indeed, the Ascendants we meet again in Ascendance have popped up in both Deep Space Nine and The Original Series novels (Allegiance in Exile also by David R George III)) which means that readers not only need to have a decent grasp of the thread here but also in a completely different aspect of the Star Trek literary universe. 

I only recalled that the Ascendants and the Bajorans had shown up in The Original Series literary timeline through a few sentences in this story and for anyone not following that could have rung a few alarms or wonder what they've missed. It's clever to pull in all these threads but as we get further and further down the line I worry that you won't just be able to pick up a Deep Space Nine novel and read it solus because you'll need to understand events that have led to that point. I suppose in a way that's similar to the TV show in its season-encompassing plots but some may not want to have to refer to The Next Generation or The Original Series to fully understand what has been happening. I was just lucky I read The Weight of Worlds!

Ascendancy is an engrossing read that deals with a lot more than you might expect with a thread focusing on Odo, another on Nog and a project he's been working on to bring back a noted character so there's a lot to be going at. Odo's story becomes one of the more insightful aspects of the novel especially with the arrival of another Changeling who seems to have very impressive and accurate shifting abilities. This part of the book certainly kept me guessing right until the end.

Don't be fooled though because Ascendance does bring everything together and in a pretty satisfying manner. There's a lot closed off but David R George III also manages to pull out a few points that will take the literary universe forward and I can't wait to see how they pan out.

Fortunately the split in the timeline and the story means that this almost becomes two separate stories at one point and feels like a Deep Space Nine anthology if there ever was one.  It's a good book with a complex and intelligent plot but not one for the casual Deep Space Nine reader. I suspect that if you are looking like that to dip in and out of I will be recommending getting hold of the recently released Force and Motion.

Enjoyed Ascendance? Was it too deep a story or should there be more of this from the Deep Space Nine stable?

Ascendance is available now from Simon and Schuster priced £7.99 ISBN 9781501103704

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