Review: Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (2013)

Heat Factor: Mostly pining

Character Chemistry: Alana has a major boner for the ship, and a minor boner for the captain

Plot: Alana stows away on a ship whose crew is searching for her sister; many adventures ensue

Overall: This book was really slow and also really trippy

Let’s set the tone, because it’s important to know what kind of sci-fi universe we’re in. This future has a distinctly Firefly-esque vibe to it: scrappy ship with scrappy people living on the fringe and big evil monolithic corporation slowly taking over everything. Things are dirty and a bit violent – no utopian visions here, but we’re not in full on dystopia either. 

When we meet our heroine, Alana Quick, she is barely hanging on. She and her aunt both suffer from a debilitating chronic illness and are barely making ends meet as sky surgeons (for ships, not people – so, space mechanics) in a reality where more and more ships are adopting new technology that they can’t work with. When a ship shows up whose crew is searching for Alana’s sister, Nova, a very in-demand spirit guide, Alana sees her chance and stows away in the cargo hold. And thus our adventure begins!

I think Koyanagi nails the whole diversity in space thing without being sanctimonious about it, which I appreciated. The crew is quirky and interesting and almost entirely female. (I saw a review complaining about this before I read the book, to which I say: this is just a corrective to the approximately 100 million sci-fi books featuring no women at all.) Marre, the pilot, was one of the more unique characters I’ve seen in a while – bits of her body just…disappear sometimes. Like, all of a sudden, the skin on her arm is gone, and Alana can see the muscle and bone underneath. 

Koyanagi’s writing is pretty evocative. There aren’t a lot of details about the actual mechanics of space travel, but there are lots of passages where Alana talks about feeling the pulse of the ship’s plasma. So while I might not get a sense for the science part of this sci-fi world (science nerds, take note), I definitely got a good sense of how things feel on a metaphysical level. So when the future in which we find ourselves starts getting really trippy about halfway through the book – it turns out that Nova the spirit guide doesn’t just do meditation workshops – the feeling really carried through. 

The writing, however, is also repetitive, which makes for slow reading, especially in the first half of the book. There were several moments where I would read a phrase, do a double-take, and think, didn’t I just read that? Here’s an example. On page 182, Alana is thinking about the evil corporate overlords and their secret technology. She states: “I wish I knew how it worked, how Transliminal could so effortlessly bend matter and space to their will.” After her reflective moment, we return to the scene – which is Alana frantically searching a crowded bar for a person the crew desperately needs to speak to. Then, on page 183, she wonders again, “How did they manipulate reality so easily?” I’m not saying that breaking up the action sequences with moments of reflection can’t be an effective storytelling technique, but doing so twice in a single scene to make the same point doesn’t work for me. 

What does work for me is the way the romance unfolds. Alana develops a crush on Tev, the Hot Captain. But Tev is inextricably bound to her crew and her ship; she’s a package deal, rather than a free agent operating in a vacuum. The crew is a tight-knit group, and just because Alana is physically on the ship doesn’t mean that she gets to be folded into the familial embrace, however desperately she wants to be. So what we get is a lot of pining and confusion and jealousy as Alana navigates her feelings for Tev and her burgeoning friendship with the rest of the crew. Bonus points for portraying a polyamorous family without titilating sex; poly love does not always equal menage. (To be clear, there is some sex, but erotic romance this is not.) 

Did the excellence of the slow burn outweigh the slow for me? Probably, especially once the story picked up, but it won’t work for everyone. I expect hard core romance fans would want more romance, and hard core sci-fi fans would want more science, but if you’re into a little bit of both, this might be a good bet. 

Buy Now: Amazon

Looking for something similar?

Sci-Fi Smut! May include aliens.

Poly Smut! May include threesomes.

Adventurous Smut! Probably doesn’t include rips in the space-time continuum, but you NEVER KNOW

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