“They’d done it. Not only had Roz, Abby, Lance, and Thunder survived their first battle with a supervillain, they’d defeated him. Krodin was dead, and they had saved the world. Now everything could go back to normal–good old boring normal. School. Parents. Friends.
But three weeks later, the world suddenly changes. The United States is under martial law, the people are little more than drones, and where Central Park should be, there now stands a massive glass-and-steel building, home to the all-powerful Chancellor.
In Michael Carroll’s follow-up to the acclaimed Super Huiman, the world has been remade in the Chancellor’s image, and it’s about to get much, much worse. Only this young band of heroes has a chance of stopping him, but can they return the world to what it was, or will they be stranded in this alternate world forever?”
If there is only one thing I can say about Super Human, it’s this: it made me pick up The Ascension as soon as I finished typing my reaction to that first book.
In The Ascension, we both pick up right after the battle that ended Super Human and three weeks later, when things start to go way wrong for our protagonists. And just like the last time, I preferred to stick with Lance McKendrick, our non-powered protagonist who continues to provide the funny in an otherwise very dire situation. But I have to say, Michael Carroll really stepped it up in humanizing our other heroes: namely Roz and Thunder, who we get to know more here in the second book than we did in the first book. We also get a bit more of the superhero Paragon and Max, the mind-controlling older brother of Roz.
In this book, we are given a world run by fear. No one in their right mind would break the rules as the littlest things get punished–yes, even skipping a few classes of school. So guess what happens when our heroes are transplanted from a world much like our reality, to this militaristic Utopia? Chaos ensues–the kind that the much-feared Chancellor is looking for to further expand his reign in the known world.
The novel tackles the idea that fear can drive people to do things they normally wouldn’t do. Which I think is a great topic for a superhero story to take on, as it’s a great showcase for why a certain person becomes good or bad. In Harry Potter, we get Death Eaters who proclaim that they were coerced, cursed or forced to do bad by Voldemort. But in The Ascension, it’s not as clear cut as that. Our protagonists are given opportunities at every turn to make a choice: do the right thing, or follow the easy path being offered by the villain? Sometimes, they get a third choice: justifying means by the end result. And it’s interesting how the characters become truly whole, and how we get to know them more clearly, as they make these decisions.
Another theme The Ascension presents is nature versus nurture. I don’t know about other people, but growing up, one of my favorite past times was to wonder how different I would be if so-and-so happened or didn’t happen. In the book, we get something similar when we meet the alternate versions of characters we met in the first book. In certain cases nature wins out, and we get the same character. But in two particular cases, we get a distortion of who the characters were in the “real” world and who they are in the alternate one. In this case, nurture wins out. It’s a fascinating exercise. And I like the nuances the author gave the characters that tells you that they are, essentially, the same ones we’ve met before.
Overall, I liked The Ascension way more than I did Super Human. Which is awesome, considering the fact that I really, really liked Super Human. Now though, I’m left wondering if Michael Carroll, the author, plans to write a third novel. I sure hope so. And I’d be okay with a non-immortal villain. At this point, I’m along for the ride not because of the adventure (though that does play a part), but I’ve already come to love the characters.