Ascendant by J.S. Devey is a debut novel that shares many similarities with movies like Independence Day, The Day the Earth Stood Still, and War of the Worlds. Unfortunately, the exciting premise of water-based aliens destroying the Earth fails to live up to expectations.
Ascendant begins with Kristen Combs, a marine biologist living somewhere in the west coast of the United States. I think she’s in Seattle, but honestly, I don’t remember and the specifics are not important. The important part is that she witnessed a meteor crash into the water while she was out to sea. From this meteor, a hive of water-based extraterrestrials known as Aquatics emerged. They rose from the oceanic depths and began destroying everything that burned fuel.
Cool concept, right? It was, except that it had one major flaw.
You can’t root for the hero if you don’t feel they are in real danger of losing something precious.
It takes more than destroying the Pacific coast to engross your reader.
Let’s start with Kristen Combs our main character. She’s intelligent, capable, calm, brave, forgiving to a fault, and utterly boring. Kristen is a term that we loathe to hear in the writing world . . . a Mary Sue. She’s good at everything, people like her, and she never fails to accomplish her objectives. After Seattle floods, Kristen is left stranded on a rooftop, does she starve? No! Does she fall and get washed away? No! Does she scrape her knee? No! She gets to her objective and we move onto the next chapter.
The point where Ascendant started to come apart was when she met Colonel Liu. It was a little far-fetched that she would speak with a Colonel, but I rolled with it. Then that Colonel (not general or secretary of defense) in his great wisdom gave Kristen the rank of Captain. Say what!? Why would Colonel Liu give a civilian with no military background, no training, and no leadership capabilities, the rank of captain? Consultant, yes, Private, sure, temporary commander, maybe, but captain? And to make matters even more outlandish, Kristen had no problem learning how to aim and shoot a grenade launcher (a weapon she had never used before) and managed to kill an alien. And the last, most absurd thing that happened in Ascendant was when Kristen got to meet the President of the United States.
This is a direct quote from the book:
“Kristen moved with a self-assuredness that made the large men surrounding the President feel as though they ought to clear a way for her.”
Look, I love powerful women, I write about them, but Kristen is not an awe-inspiring character.
The female character who deserved it, in my opinion, was also the most interesting character in the book. Chief Lauren Parisi, a female soldier turned Mako Soldier I.E. cyborg.
Her cybernetic limbs, sense of humor, and capability for action added some much-needed levity to a rather drab book. Problem was, Chief Parisi often went on philosophical tangents which dragged the book’s pacing to a crawl. Just when you thought you were about to get an action scene, Chief Parisi waxes on about life and asks why they’re fighting aliens from another planet.
These constant philosophical interruptions, and lack of danger turned what should have been a nerve-wracking book into an overly long lecture on the merits of war. Several times throughout the novel, there were moments where Kristen and Lauren should have been on the brink of tears, or having a nervous breakdown, or feeling anguish over the destruction of the west coast. None of this happened. The characters remained calm, cool, and collected even as they witnessed fellow soldiers die in battle. An admirable quality to have in real-life, but not good for creating drama in a novel.
To makes matters worse, the prose in Ascendant is painfully formal. The author uses vocabulary fit for a researcher requesting a grant from a corporate sponsor. When I read about the characters searching for “purchase through turbid waters” or trying to “ascertain” the motives of the aliens, I couldn’t help but feel completely detached from what was happening. Ascendant was too much telling, not enough showing.
Although this review comes across as harsh, there are many good things to say about the novel.
First and foremost, Ascendant promotes strong female characters and a diverse cast of characters. The concept of water-based aliens destroying pollution causing buildings and vehicles was an interesting idea despite making the novel sound preachy. J.S. Devey is an author with great potential to tell some riveting and fascinating stories. Ascendant was not a good start to his budding author career but it wasn’t a bad start either, it shares many of the faults that most first-time authors go through.
With a bit more experience and practice, I think J.S. Devey will become the author to watch out for.
I give Ascendant
3 out of 5 stars.