Tuesday, December 14, 2010

REVIEW: @dpeterfreund's Ascendant--Don't get gored

Peterfreund, D.  (2010).  Ascendant.  New York:  HarperTeen.

392 pages.

Appetizer:  About a month after the events of Rampant, Astrid, a self-described "celibate unicorn hunter living in a nunnery" (p. 29) and the rest of the Order of the Lioness are still at work in Italy, hunting down violent unicorns.  But, it soon becomes clear not all is well.  Cory seems to be losing her ability to sense and fight the unicorns.  Astrid's boyfriend, Giovanni, has to return to the United States to go back to college.  The Catholic church is trying to establish rules of conduct for the order members (including awful nun habit-like uniforms) and Neil and Cory are still looking for the guy who was hired to rape Phil.  The search for him will lead Astrid to France and to an opportunity to be free of killing unicorns if she's only try to contain a herd for testing to find the elusive remedy that can cure almost any illness.

I'll admit, I had a lot of trouble getting into Ascendant at first.  Since I'd read Rampant over a year ago, I could not keep most of the characters straight.  While Peterfreund did a good job of providing backstory into the events of Rampant, I felt like I was just expected to know who was who.  And that didn't work for me.

Shel + Remembering Names = BAD!!!!!!!

Eventually, as the story continued, I eased back in.  (Still don't quiz me on who did what in the previous book and how it connects to this one, because I won't be able to answer.)  The scene when the girls first tried on their new modified, camouflage uniforms was a big help:
"I'm wearing a camouflage habit."
"But a cute one," Phil pointed out.
All up and down the dorm hallway, I could hear the other hunters groaning as they tried on our new hunting uniforms.  The outfit consisted of thick, polyester, camouflage-patterned split skirts that fell all the way to our ankles, a long camo head scarf, and matching long-sleeved, high-necked jackets.  (p. 44)
I tried to find a picture to pair with this quote.  But it turns out googling, "camouflage nun habit" didn't churn up much in terms of camouflaged nun clothing.  I did wind up with images that could be analyzed as a paper on gender studies:

So I had to imagine for myself exactly how awful these outfits were:

Buffy would never put up with this!

I have to say, while Rampant was literally my favorite book of 2009, I'm less passionate about Ascendant.  I still loved Astrid and her dialogue with other characters, I enjoyed the questions over the morality of killing unicorns and over the ethics of animal testing.  Peterfreund's writing is still great and she does an amazing job of raising questions over large issues in a way that doesn't feel forced.

I just didn't like the trajectory of Astrid's journey.  She spent a lot of this novel alone, watching over a herd of unicorns.  While the plot was still interesting, I missed the battles of Rampant, I missed the dialogue exchanges that Astrid would have with other hunters.  *Vague spoiler*  Then, about three-quarters of the way through the novel *someone* is seriously injured.  I did not like that.  It wasn't as terrible as, say, the ending of Mockingjay which had be shouting "Seriously?  Seriously?!" as I finished the book, but stuff happened that I did not want to happen.

And I'm left wondering if there will be a third book.  Because while Ascendant does offer some resolution to some of the major conflicts in the series, there are still other questions left unresolved.

Dinner Conversation:

"The unicorn drew its last breath.  Within its chest, its heart shuddered and stopped.  Twenty yards away, I felt it die, and the world settled into normality.  Fire and flood ebbed, the tunnel widened, and my thoughts became my own" (p. 1).

"When I took a unicorn, it was more out of reflex than anything else.  The magic took over.  It was just me, my prey, and my weapon.  There was no discussion with the other hunters about whose "turn" it was.  Hesitation might result in one of us ending up dead.  A unicorn moved too fast for us to stop and think about how many kills we'd each gotten.  If I had a shot, I'd take it.  The alternative was a horn in the gut.
I knew that all too well" (p. 3).

"Dating Giovanni was my only taste of normalcy, the only part of me that remained tethered to my old life, the old Astrid.  Giovanni reminded me that hands could be used for holding people, not swords, and that my heart could pound when I wasn't in pursuit of prey.  He took me outside the Cloisters for art, not battle, and used my hunting knife to cut cheese.  Giovanni had helped to make me a warrior, but he knew that I was also a girl.  If he left, what would be left of me?" (p. 30).

"I wanted to take part in the search for the Remedy.  I wanted to fulfill my duty as a unicorn hunter, but I hated life at the Cloisters.  I hated being stuck there, polishing weapons and wearing habits and traveling around killing wild animals.  Here, I could protect people from the threat of killer unicorns without necessarily having to kill them.  It was win-win" (pp. 144-145).

Tasty Rating:  !!!!

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