Book Review: Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi
With thanks to NetGalley and Masque Books for the opportunity to read an advance copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.
Alana Quick is a sky surgeon, as evident by her long locs. She loves ships as one loves a significant other and has lost a few of the latter because she places her work first and foremost in her life. But she’s never actually left her homeworld in one. There is little money in her line of work, but she loves it too much to ever consider doing anything else and she refuses to sell out to Transliminal, the reigning corporation that offers promises of magic and money – and the potential cure for Alana and her Aunt Lai’s debilitating muscle disease.
When a ship arrives seeking Alana’s sister Nova, Alana obeys the ship’s summons and leaps on the opportunity to stow away in hopes of proving herself worthy of joining the ship’s crew. Captain Tev is understandably mad about this, but since they still need her sister, Tev allows Alana to remain on board. A catastrophic event following their retrieval of Nova turns ship and all onboard into hunted criminals who must get to the heart of Transliminal to both clear their name and achieve their initial goals.
In her bio, Koyanagi describes a desire to write books featuring atypical heroes and social structures. One review complained about the dearth of male characters. This isn’t Y: The Last Man, Vol. 1: Unmanned where all but one male has died off. There are male characters, they just don’t have prominent roles in the story. Fiction presents an opportunity for writers to venture far beyond the stereotypes and prejudices of reality, yet so often, we keep seeing white male-centric books with the occasional, lovingly described token people of another race and/or gender. Although I’d prefer to see greater equality over all, I can definitely forgive a writer who chooses to defy the standards and present a female dominated world without needing an explanation for it.
In keeping with Koyanagi’s atypical protagonist, Alana and several other characters are queer, but I was more intrigued by the incorporation of Alana’s disease. Considering her line of work and how reliant she is on her body as much as her mind, the cost of her medication, her desire to get treatment for herself and her aunt and the limited supply of medication adds an interesting twist to how the crew reacts to her needs, and the constant pain make her work difficult at times.
There were certain elements of the story, particularly the Tangled Axon and her crew, that reminded me of series like Sol Bianca and Firefly, so I wasn’t surprised by one of the big reveals. I did like the way everything forged together, particularly with Nova. This is Alana’s story, told from her PoV, but, considering the title of the book, Nova’s part to play is pretty significant. Koyanagi drops hints at this through long speeches from Nova that perhaps could have been more subtly strung throughout the story.
This is also a love story, as hinted at in the blurb. Alana’s attraction to Captain Tev is rivaled only by her attraction to the Tangled Axon and since Tev loves her ship just as much, it’s not hard to see where things are going. The path there is a bit long, but it allows for a lot of character development as Alana attempts to learn about her new crew.
The love story, the ascension, the quest – all come together in an ending that perhaps tries too hard to preach its point with all the shiny, but this is only a minor complaint and not enough for me to dislike the author for wanting to deliver her messages with a little bit of soul glow.
Koyanagi develops an interesting world. Each planet has unique traits that she describes with care. However, there is little overall to explain some of the elements of the world, such as “the breach” or how all this came to be. The latter didn’t bother me too much, though. If this takes place far into human future, I don’t think it completely necessary to dwell on exposition as to how everything came to be as it is, especially if that history does not really influence the story. And if this is just a galaxy far away and long ago, then even better.
As for the main character, I can’t say that I really liked her as a person, but I did find her interesting and very human. I like that she makes a lot of irresponsible mistakes and wasn’t simply accepted into the crew just because her skills proved her worthy. I like the way her obsession with engineering helps her to overcome her constant pain and she’s never defined by or limited because of it.
There are a lot of really great ideas in this book and I definitely appreciate the refreshing take on certain elements within the genre. This was a very ambitious undertaking for a first novel. There is room for improvement in terms of pacing and extraneous wording in descriptions, but overall, a worthy addition to the science fiction universe.