Saturday, December 25, 2010

FCSS Week 3: Book Review: Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

Ascendant (Rampant #2) by Diana Peterfreund

Reading Level: Young Adult
Hardcover: 400 pages
Publisher: HarperTeen
Language: English
ISBN-10: 006140024
ISBN-13: 978-0061490026
Source: Bought at Books-A-Million
Cover: This cover looks amazing with the first and I really like it. The serene look on the model's face, the fact that she looks like Astrid is described and the addition of the sword for emphasis on her warrior roots all work great together. I also really like the light pink lettering because it goes well with her pale skin, light eyes and fair hair.
First Sentence: "In ancient times, royalty hunted unicorn for sport."

The Mini-Review: This novel is not for the faint-hearted.

Book Summary:

Astrid Llewelyn is now a fully trained unicorn hunter, but she can't solve all her problems with just a bow and arrow. Her boyfriend, Giovanni, has decided to leave Rome, the Cloisters is in dire financial straits, her best friend's powers seem to be mysteriously disintegrating, and Astrid can't help but feel that school, home and her hopes of becoming a scientist are nothing more than impossible dreams.
So when she's given the opportunity to leave the Cloisters and put her skills to use as part of a scientific quest to discover the Remedy, Astrid leaps at the chance. Finally, she can have exactly what she wants-- or can she? At Gordian headquarters, deep in the French countryside, Astrid begins to question everything she thought she believed: her love for Giovanni, her loyalty to the Cloisters, and--most of all--her duty as a hunter. Should Astrid be saving the world from killer unicorns or saving the unicorns from the world?

The Review:

I've been sitting on this one because my feelings about this novel are very, very complex. After this paragraph, I'm going to be going in depth and spoiling things so for those of you who don't want anything spoiled here's what you should know. I enjoyed every last page of this novel, the writing was excellent and I had my same wonderful characters from the first novel and a few new ones to love or despise. However, I felt really unsatisfied with where this novel went because it felt like it erased what happened in the previous installment and I didn't feel it had a resolution. So I personally wish I stopped at the first one.

Astrid's back and her situation isn't any brighter than the last time we saw her. The thing I loved about Rampant was that no one side was actually "right". I cringed while Astrid learned to hunt because she was killing an animal that was just hunting itself out of instinct and wasn't innately evil. Yet, if she didn't innocent people would die. So what was she to do? On top of that, I wanted her cloister to continue on and prosper and as we find out in this next installment, it hasn't. Out of money and out of options the cloister is falling apart at the seams. This is one of the things that makes Peterfreund such an exceptional writer. She doesn't give herself an easy plot solution. There is no "right" way to go and she never pretends there is. It's usually choosing between the lesser of two extremely unfair situations and sticking with it. This novel is no different.

Astrid is still a strong hunter at the beginning of this novel but without any real direction now that the company funding the cloister is gone, she's sort of stuck in this role. So she is able to get out. I really enjoyed her growth through the beginning of this novel. Her viewpoint wavers and she finally starts to truly sympathize with Phil's work. She also realizes that Phil's campaign will cost humans their lives and can't  turn her head. But it isn't an easy decision. She even has to start to wrestle with the price science makes the animals pay as she is put in charge of a group of einhorns (best described as the a typical white unicorn) and starts to know each one personally. This growth was extraordinary and it was nice to see Astrid flourish in many levels. However, Astrid's growth is stunted completely when she becomes irreversibly brain damaged.

So let's get this part over with then. It was a gutsy and very risky move to give the heroine of this novel (known for her brains and for being a very strong kick ass female character) brain damage, effectively taking away the things I personally loved about Astrid 75 percent of the way through the novel. As far as tastes go, I really didn't like this development because it robbed me of this character I loved and I felt the ending didn't do a good enough job of at least making me feel satisfied (I'll go into this in a few paragraphs). BUT I understand some of the reasons why Peterfruend did this and I respect the decision. After all, this is not my novel to write and nobody knows where the character's journey should take them accept the author. As for the reasons, I decided that Astrid's path has always been a complicated one and there wasn't going to be a much happier ending for her. Not only this, but in taking away her ability to really reason, the reader really gets to see how the transformation she made in the past 75 percent of the novel really shook her to her core. She was changed so much that even when she was no longer working "right" she still made the best decision she could based on what she learned in this novel. That's quite a statement.

I liked that we got to see where the rest of the characters went too. Cory was always wonderful and while her journey was never tied up, I was glad she found happiness. Phil was just as hard working as ever but I was sad to see her light dulling as the responsibilities began to overwhelm her. Astrid's mother was quite a surprise. Not only did she go right back to being the worst mother in the world, she took the title even further in this novel which I did not think was possible. So hats off to her. I was glad to meet Isabeau who embraced Astrid for who she was. Though Isabeau did some bad things, I don't think she was any more or less of a villain than everyone else in the novel. To make her the villain, you must make everyone else a villain too. 

I think the thing that really bothered me about this novel was it seemed to take everything that happened in the first novel and throw it out. We lose Giovanni after working so hard to stay with him, Mom goes right back to the same, we find The Remedy but can do nothing to recreate it and even Astrid's evolution of becoming a hunter is moot after she's brain damaged. It sort of felt like to me that there was no point in even having a first novel if we everything is reversed in this second one. I guess, I'd have felt more satisfied if some things had coincided with the first novel.  The ending left me worried about Astrid. I truly felt that she wouldn't be alright on her own and so to close the novel and abandon her, like everyone else in her life, just felt wrong to me. 

So to sum this up, it has to be a good novel to have evoked such a long-winded review and intense feelings for me. The writing was smooth, Astrid's voice was strong and I had no idea where the story was going. However, because it felt like the entire first novel was erased and because of where the novel went, I was left feeling unsatisfied. I am wholly on the fence. There were things I saw in this one that I loved in the first and things I really didn't like as well. But sometimes, that's how it has to be to stick with you. I'd say, read at your own caution.



  1. I just got Ascendant for Christmas and was really excited... now, I'm really not sure *how* to feel about reading it. A lot of other reviewers seem 'on the fence' about it, like you. I guess I'll just keep an open mind. Thanks for the review, and I hope you had a great Christmas. :)

  2. I hate to say this but some books should've been stand alone...


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