REVIEW: Fate of the Jedi: Ascension by Christie Golden

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  

Fangirl

Fangirl

Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue.

Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.
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Fangirl

Tricia Barr took her understanding of brand management and marketing, mixed it with a love of genre storytelling, and added a dash of social media flare to create FANgirl Blog, where she discusses Star Wars, fandom, and the intersection of women within Star Wars fandom. She is co-author of Ultimate Star Wars and Star Wars Visual Encyclopedia from DK Publishing, a featured writer for Star Wars Insider magazine with numerous articles on the Hero's Journey. Her FANgirl opinions can be heard on the podcasts Hyperspace Theories and Fangirls Going Rogue. Tricia Barr's novel, Wynde, won the 2014 Independent Publisher Book Award Gold Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook. She was also part of Silence in the Library's successful all-female creator science fiction and fantasy anthology Athena's Daughters, which is available now. For excerpts and tales of her adventures in creating a fictional universe, hop over to TriciaBarr.com.

8 thoughts on “REVIEW: Fate of the Jedi: Ascension by Christie Golden

  • August 9, 2011 at 1:24 pm
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    For gross negligence on the topic of domestic violence, I’m subtracting two points.

    Thank you for this. Irresponsibility in dealing with serious topics is something all-too-frequently brushed off or forgive because the rest of the work has merit or is well-loved.

    Reply
  • August 9, 2011 at 8:18 pm
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    First, I totally agree with anison. For that reason alone, I do not want to spend my money on this book. Shame on everyone involved for publishing such a theme under the Star Wars banner.

    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.

    This sentence really stands out to me. If you add poor-but-convenient character choices to a complete lack of palpable tension and what do you get? Not much of a story – and authors resorting to cheap, unacceptable plot devices. Has Star Wars really sunk so low that TPTB can rationalize including a domestic violence scene? Is it supposed to be “edgy”? Titillating? To what audience do they think they’re pandering? If, as you suggest, they are looking to compete with young-adult…teenybopper bodice-ripper(s) I would hazard to guess that it isn’t working – and it is plain that the EU is losing its previously solid readership. In case no one at DR/LFL has noticed, that is what would be known as a lose-lose situation.

    In addition, I’m beginning to wonder whether Ben Skywalker brings a more insidiously evil presence to the closing novels of FOTJ than Abeloth and the pretty un-Sithly “Sith Tribe” combined.

    While writing the previous sentence I was reminded how much I actually enjoyed reading the scenes in Omen that introduced us to Vestara Khai and the Tribe on Kesh. I stopped this post long enough to look again at the passages beginning on page 37 in Christie Golden’s first EU book. They were good. The prose was far better written than it has been in her subsequent two FOTJ novels.

    What happened?

    Based on the thoughtful excellence of your previous reviews, Fangirl, I don’t doubt that much (if not all) of what you say here will ring true, if and when I decide to crack open a copy of Ascension. In the years since Tim Zahn’s first run of Heir to the Empire, I have never once left an empty space on the bookshelves where my Star Wars book collection resides. I’ve got them all. Perhaps that time has finally come.

    I’ll take a look next time I pass by a bookstore – but Ascension may very well not make it to the checkout line in my hands. That makes me very sad.

    Reply
  • August 12, 2011 at 8:31 pm
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    I was cruising google looking for reviews of this book and I stumbled upon your blog. I agree with most of what you have to say about this book, but I must admit I’m curious as to how you feel female characters are under appreciated in this series. I mean nearly every storyline has a strong female character in the center of it. Daala, Leia, Jaina, Saba, Vestara, etc. There are plenty of females represented in lead roles, Although there is a diversity problem. As a person of color, I am disappointed that humanity is presented as a very monochrome species and humans of color are few and far between in these novels.

    Reply
  • August 18, 2011 at 1:41 am
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    Wow! Two out of ten. I agree that Golden is the weakest of the three authors of this series, but that’s a really low score. I still read it in three days flat just reading in the evenings after laying down. What Star Wars book(s) would get a ten? A one? I agree that there is a lot that could have been done better. The biggest disappointments for me were:

    1. The missing fight scene that lead to the Death of Lord Vol

    2. The whole Korriban scene (this space could’ve been used better – ahem see #1)

    3. Ben gets bested by a giant bug? Should’ve at least been a Terentek

    The best parts:

    1. Vestara’s choice regarding Natua leaves all possibilities on the table and just seems right given her previous actions

    2. The Jag v Daala battle sequence

    3. Vestara’s duel with Daddy

    As to the alleged domestic violence reference I didn’t really notice until you pointed it out. Ben over powering her for one reason or another is not far fetched – she is a powerful Sith and that’s what she understands and respects, but the scene was rather clumsy as a lead in to the start of their romantic involvement. I’m not overly concerned about it though. I certainly wouldn’t become to righteous about it in light of her black widow like plans for Ben.

    My score would be a 5/10.

    Star By Star, Last Command, Vision of the Future are some examples of 10/10’s

    1/10 = the only one I ever put down unfinished = I, Jedi

    Reply
    • August 20, 2011 at 9:43 am
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      I think that Golden pretty much went too fast with the whole redemption thing and start of a romantic relationship. I believe that she should have went a bit slower with that. After all, Vestara thought that she was certain to become a Jedi, but she thought she wanted to become one the same day she killed her father. In the end, it makes it look like she only did that for Ben, and not for herself. She shouldn’t have put the whole start of a relationship thing in this book. They should have left that for the last book. I think that they also should have given Vestara more time to think about becoming a Jedi. And also, they pilled up to many things in one book with only 400 pages. Guys, if you don’t have enough space, make a tenth book. What’s the problem with that?

      Reply
  • August 18, 2011 at 1:59 pm
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    Even though I dissagree with the whole twilight thing, because I don’t think that it has a same plot with it, I do agree with your review. I also think that the author went too fast with the events, because Vestara gets to kill her father and get in to a relationship with Ben all in the first part of the second half of the book. Then she concludes that she is sith after all. Honestly, I haven’t read a lot of the star wars books, but compared to other books that have read I must say that Christie writes like a fan of the star wars universe who wasn’t had much experience with the whole plot of the fate of the jedi series. Also I do agree with the fact that she shows very little concern regarding the showing of domestic violence and a jedi knight unleashing rage upon a person, particularly on a girl he has affection for. I do also agree with the grammatical errors in the book. Even though I come from a country where English isn’t a native tongue, still I speak English very well.

    Reply
  • October 25, 2011 at 9:29 pm
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    I would have to agree with most of this review. This series was very promising and has introduced some interesting characters. Problem is everything is just moving too fast. This whole thing with Vestera wanting be a jedi, no wait I’m still a sith,….just seems ridiculous to me. It makes no sense to me that she would still want to be a sith after everything she has witnessed. That is just one of many things that annoy me about this book. The plot just
    needs to get better.

    Reply
  • February 16, 2012 at 2:16 pm
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    The space battle a best part? The space battle took fewer pages to unveil the multi-“surprise” elements each leader threw at the other than was spent talking about the decorations for the Kesh party.
    The fighting between Ben and Vestara didn’t come off as domestic violence to me, but it was poorly written attempt to show two young Force users moving toward each other’s beliefs with how much they have emotionally invested in one another.
    It would have been a perfect place to look at Jacen’s fall to the Dark Side as part of the lack of attachments that Luke’s Jedi Order abandoned from the old teachings.

    Through most of this, Golden falls short in both content and excitement, though I found this to be better than her other two books. I don’t think her focus is there, but had the second fight with Vol been told, there probably would have been less suspense as to Abeloth’s arrival and take over. Yes, she had telegraphed her ideas to the reader while on Ship, but it came across better than most of the book.

    Sadly, most of these key elements we find issue with are things she probably discussed with the other authors and just failed to write well. If she does continue writing Star Wars, I will read them and I will read between the lines and pretend those hidden lines have been written by a better person.

    Reply

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