REVIEW: ASCENDER VOLUME 1
Mother loves you...
After the wild conclusion to the DESCENDER series, I'd immediately picked up all four volumes of it's sequel series, ASCENDER, though it has taken me a lot longer to start in on this new series than I had intended.
HOW I RATED IT
4/5 This volume offers a solid start to this sequel series. Things do take a little while to get going as the story takes some time to setup all the differences between this universe and the one we knew in the DESCENDER series, but the setup is all very interesting and I am excited to see where this new journey will go.
With Tim-21 missing and the galaxy reimagined, our story follows the young Mila, a human girl who is the daughter of Andy and Effie from the DESCENDER series. Considering that these two characters do "get busy" during the preceding series, the birth of this child felt completely believable and it was cool to see some flashback scenes of Andy and Effie as they first discover they are expecting and start to forge a new life in this changing universe. Sadly, we find out that something happened to Effie before the events of the present day, so she doesn't get a whole lot of page time. We get a fair bit of time with Andy though and it was interesting to see how he turned out as a parent to this young girl in a world fraught with danger. The arrival of Bandit (who literally drops out of the sky) sends the father-daughter duo on a harrowing escape from their home in search of Telsa, whose role in this particular volume is mostly relegated to the end. The reunion between Andy and Telsa was sort of funny in some ways and heartbreaking in others. It is clear that the way things have turned out weighs on them heavily as they have both tried to forge new lives in spite of the odds against them. Mila is a compelling enough lead for her own part. She doesn't fully come into her own and she would fall into the "rebellious, but sweet youth" architype, which is fine, but I am curious to see if she ends up being as interesting as Tim. I am also interested to know if/when Tim-21 might make his triumphant return since he is entirely absent from this volume. Rounding out the core cast are the villains for this new story, including the mysterious "Mother," her cronies, and the wraiths of "Mothers" who have since past. I rather liked getting so up close with the series antagonists since the core threats of DESCENDER remained largely mysterious until about halfway through the series. The more villainous side of the plot felt like it was mostly serving to lay down important world building, but Mother does get some interesting development as well.
Although this is set within the same universe as DESCENDER and acts as a direct sequel to that series, the setting that we get here has changed quite a lot. We revisit familiar worlds like Samson, Mata, and Gnish, but the scientific advancements that one might typically associate with a science fiction setting have been done away with in favor of magic. This is a really interesting concept that I don't think I've seen played with before. I am definitely curious to see where the creators go with it. It's not entirely clear how or why technology of any kind has come to be outlawed (aside from how the events of DESCENDER's finale probably made everyone a lot less comfortable with any form of advanced tech) or how exactly this "Mother" came to have so much power, but I expect that those answers will come later on. In the meantime, this feels like a world that has been reborn with fresh mystery and plenty of possibilities. We get introductions to brand new species like giant creatures that are used as "star ships" or even space vampires. There is some pretty exotic wildlife to be found on Samson, although I am not entirely sure if these are necessarily new creatures or if this is just the first time we've seen them. I'll be really curious to see how the main characters are able to get around the issue of interplanetary travel without the use of technology, since I doubt Mother will be willing to loan them one of her organic "ships." An additional layer to all of this is that it appears as though a portion of the UGC is still intact and has orchestrated a bit of a rebellion against Mother's regime. I look forward to seeing how this side conflict will ultimately factor into the main adventure.
In some ways, there isn't a whole ton that actually "happens" in this particular volume. I feel like the main goal of it was really to show readers how the setting they knew from before has changed for this series, introduce new characters (or reintroduce old ones), and establish the core conflict that will drive things forward in the next three volumes. Essentially, this sets up a lot, but actually delivers fairly little aside from some exciting chase sequences with Mila, Andy, and Bandit. While that might sound harsh, I think that's probably to be expected for what is essentially the first 25% of the broader story that this series will tell. The flashback sequences with Andy and Effie were a nice touch and also served to help bridge the gap in time between each of these series. The prophesy given to Mother by her council of apparitions was rather interesting and seems to place a lot of focus on Bandit which is sort of unexpected. I'll be fascinated to find out how exactly the cute little dog-bot will play into things, especially now that he has some pretty fancy upgrades now and apparently barks backwards? There is a character death near the end that I found to be rather shocking and makes me worry about what will happen to some of the other people in this story as things go on. This is definitely still a brutal and bleak universe to be living in, but I appreciate that the creators don't try too hard to make it needlessly edgy.
THE ART AND PAPERBACK QUALITY
The paperback itself is of the same quality as what we got with DESCENDER. Some of my minor gripes with the fonts/lettering still stand in that the exposition boxes for different Planets are small and kind of hard to look at. Fortunately, the speech bubbles are all still fine. I'm not sure if this was just entirely in my imagination or not, but I did feel like the artwork was slightly less detailed than it was in the previous series. It boasts the same artist and art style as before, but I guess it just looked slightly more washed out to me, like some of the shading wasn't as crisp or something. Part of this may have been that the story involves a lot more lush, organic backdrops as opposed to stark, white interiors of various stations and ships and maybe there's just not enough contrast between the characters and backgrounds or perhaps things were just a bit rushed to get it all rendered within the same timeline as the prior series when perhaps more time was needed to do it more fully. It's again, entirely possible that this is just me and maybe I just remember DESCENDER looking better than it did.
If you liked DESCENDER, then I do think that starting in on this follow up series will be worthwhile for you. This first volume didn't fully blow me away, but it sets up a lot of intriguing characters and concepts, so I am looking forward to continuing on with it.
(+) The return of several noteworthy characters from DESCENDER
(+) Some intriguing world building
(+) The replacement of technology with magic is a fascinating concept
(+) A compelling setup for a new adventure
(-) There's not necessarily a lot that actually "happens" in this volume since it mostly serves to kick off this new series/adventure and that means things take a little while to get going
(-) For some reason I felt like the art was less detailed than it was in DESCENDER, not sure if this was just my imagination