WARNING: MAJOR SPOILERS ARE INCLUDED IN THIS REVIEW
Unfortunately, Fate of the Jedi: Ascension is just a bad Star Wars book. Not only a bad Star Wars book – a bad book, period. With no real thought put into the plot, it’s written to the lowest common dominator, and anyone who really thinks about the book as they read it will be very disappointed. That the promises of an exciting mini-trilogy to conclude the series have not been upheld is also a real shame.
With Ben Skywalker and Vestara Khai looking askance at each other over their shoulders on the cover, the front cover evokes the worst clichés of young-adult paranormal romance books, and that impression sadly carries through not just in the trope-heavy pattern of the teen relationship itself. On the back cover is Boba Fett. One might think this means he’ll play a major role in the novel, but in fact he has one insignificant scene. So why is he on the back cover? Perhaps it’s shameless pandering to the Fett fanboys, or maybe it’s just a stock image of a movie character, meaning Del Rey could whip up the cover image on the cheap even though the book buyer is expected to shell out top dollar for a hardcover. No matter, it’s one of many empty promises delivered with the eighth book.
Some reviewers are heralding this as the penultimate book in the Fate of the Jedi series. That word is too bold and too grand for what the readers are given. Like I said, it’s just a bad book. The barrage of editorial errors from Golden’s last entry has been better addressed, although not nearly to the standard we see from Denning or Allston. There’s still too much clunky prose, confusing phrasings, Tell-not-Show, and awkward dialogue. The power of the plot over characterization still rules the day in Ascension, just like in Allies, and even the world-building and story-context previously established within the Fate of the Jedi series are sacrificed for the quick and easy path to checking off plot points from a list.
For a book series meant to be part political thriller, Golden’s use of the Senate of the Galactic Alliance and the established government bureaucracy is based on a superficial, juvenile portrayal of how things really work. Where in Golden’s own Omen the GA’s news media was savvy, skilled, devious, and followed Jaina and Jag relentlessly, now, in Ascension, the media is completely oblivious to the fact that agents of the Lost Tribe have taken up residence in the just-vacated Jedi Temple and that Senator Suldar is not in fact a legitimate representative of B’nish but rather a Sith infiltrator. The entire premise of the Lost Tribe of the Sith is that they’ve been marooned on Kesh for millennia, separated from the galaxy – yet we’re expected to believe that within a matter of a year or so, they’ve acquired enough familiarity with the contemporary galaxy to be able to easily manipulate the entire GA Senate and the news media. Time and again in the book, rather than maintaining consistency or verisimilitude, Golden writes something the way she needs it to function for the plot to work as simply as possible at any given point.
The characterization is just as poor as the other aspects of the writing craft. Occasionally, Golden executes a really great moment in which a character’s true nature really shines. The vast majority of the time, however, the portrayals are simplistic, clichéd, cartoonish, or just fall flat.
For instance, Luke Skywalker shows up at the Jedi Temple with a Sith apprentice in tow and, based on his own momentary read on the sincerity of her declaration of intent to become a Jedi, gives her the run of the place. It’s bad enough to think Luke would take that risk with the only very recently possibly reformed Vestara. It’s madness to think that Jaina, Leia, Corran, Saba, or any other Jedi would not question it or that they’d even tolerate it. This is typical of the continuously ridiculous choices thrust upon Luke Skywalker to serve the book’s plot at the expense of his character’s credibility.
The villains are an entirely different matter, with Golden persistently insisting on softening their wicked personas. Villains like Sith and ancient hellspawn are best left as that: evil villains who must be defeated, not empathetic figures with their own sorrows. Why Golden thinks she is improving their characters by softening them is simply puzzling, especially considering the series hasn’t truly established a credible threat to make this whole situation even mildly suspenseful.
Ascension fails miserably at the moral fables which are supposed to be at the core of a modern myth space opera like Star Wars. The tale of Legacy of the Force, for example, was the saga of Jacen Solo’s fall to the dark side and its ramifications for his family and the galaxy. Then Fate of the Jedi began with Luke and Ben on an odyssey to discover the sources of Jacen’s tragic choices. After a few books, however, that quest was largely abandoned in favor of the pursuit of answers about Abeloth. Yet Ascension brings closure – and a virtual slap on the face to those fans who bought this series looking for the answers to Jacen’s sojourn as the creators had promised – to Luke’s exile and the Jacen storyline with a couple paragraphs of internal monologue from Luke, musing on the conclusion that Jacen’s fall had simply been inevitable. Similarly, Denning’s Vortex created a morally complicated (and morally compromised) scenario in which Saba Sebatyne was forced into a duel to the death with Kenth Hamner, then succeeded him as Grand Master; Allston’s Conviction, if briefly, continued with the moral complexity of the situation. But Golden’s Ascension resolves all these issues with a brief exchange between Luke and Saba which amounts to little more than a pat on the back and a reassurance that she’d done the best she could. There are other examples, too. The fact is, the story deserved better – and so did the fans.
As a fangirl, I’ve been commenting on the marginalization of female characters since Allies was released. With Ascension, Golden doesn’t get it any better. Female characters are undermined once again in this novel and their storylines subservient to the stories of the male characters. After being criticized for casually introducing themes of rape and victimization of women into Allies, Golden persists with a shocking scene that leads off with Ben Skywalker Force-slapping and physically overpowering his love interest moments before bestowing upon Vestara their first kiss. Golden then never deals with the ramifications of the situation or the fact that a Jedi Knight struck out in rage. It’s sloppy and irresponsible for any author to treat domestic violence with such carelessness.
The roles of the other female characters in this book fare little better. For a more detailed discussion of the role of female characters, the writing craft, storyline, characterization, and Star Wars tone of this book, please check out my full review.
I’ll end where I began: Ascension is a bad book and it’s bad Star Wars. We can only hope it’s also Golden’s last contribution to the Expanded Universe. I can’t even compare it to dessert in its rating, but rather more like a cheap, piping hot cheese delivery pizza that burns the top of your mouth and gives you heartburn and indigestion. Read at your own risk, in a padded room, where you can’t punch too many holes in the wall at the book-chucking moment. If you have to read it and can wait, rent it or borrow it or take advantage of Barnes and Noble’s free in-store reading time (one hour per day per Nook). This book isn’t an adult-themed entry into the flagship series, but rather a young-adult Twilight-style teenybopper bodice-ripper that are generally sold for $6.99. For that reason it shouldn’t be rewarded with hard-earned dollars at the listed hardcover retail price.
Because these books have refused to create separate identities within the series, for the last exciting mini-trilogy I’ve decided to grade both the book and the series to create a final weighted score. Ascension is a slight improvement over Allies, but by not much, so it’s a 5. At the end of Conviction I gave the series a 4; Ascension reveals a descending trajectory for the series, as Golden left it worse off, so the series score is now reduced to a 2. Double weight to the book score leaves Ascension at a 4. For gross negligence on the topic of domestic violence, I’m subtracting two points.
2 / 10
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