This sequel to Rampant is not the sort of book to make a lot of concessions. The opening scene, in which narrator/hereditary-unicorn-slayer Astrid Llewellyn matter-of-factly harvests her dead prey, serves as a litmus test for Peterfreund’s dark, historically informed take on unicorn legends. I imagine that more than a few gentle souls will decide to read no further.
If you have little patience for books that spend a lot of pages recapitulating introductions to characters and plot points of previous books, you’ll appreciate Peterfreund’s determinedly in medias res approach. It had been nearly a year since I read Rampant, and I had a little trouble getting back up to speed with Peterfreund’s cast of secondary characters.
One thing I’ve noticed about Peterfreund’s novels: they’re not plot-driven in a conventional external event sense. There are external conflicts for the characters to overcome, but the primary through plot arc is likely to be internal, and not necessarily obvious from the outset. Meanwhile, the most significant external plot drivers don’t necessarily manifest in the first few, or even several, chapters. Ascendant is no exception, and for a while I thought it was suffering a bit from middle-act-syndrome: there’s a strong sense of Things Are Not As They Seem hanging over many of the proceedings, and many plot elements with a span beyond beyond this novel. (Without getting too spoiler-y, the 64K$ question here is, “Can humanity and unicorns learn to just get along? And if so, how?”)
But the final third or so of this novel really kicks into high gear. I think I read it in a single sitting. And while at least one more novel is clearly in the offing, a) I don’t mind, and b) this one achieves a more satisfying degree of closure than I thought it was going to.
needs more demons? the distribution is a little lumpy, perhaps, but no.