Book: The Ascension

"The Ascension" by Michael CarrollThey’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.

Check out what other people online have said about The Ascension:
Good Reads reviews
Kirkus Book Reviews
Whatchamacallit Reviews

Book: The Lives of Christopher Chant

"The Lives of Christopher Chant" by Diana Wynne JonesDiscovering that he has nine lives and is destined to be the next ‘Chrestomanci’ is not part of Christopher’s plans for the future: he’d much rather play cricket and wander around his secret dream worlds. But he soon finds that destiny is difficult to avoid, and that having more than the usual number of lives is pretty inconvenient–especially when you them as easily as he does!

Then an evil smuggler, known only as The Wraith, threatens the ways of the worlds and forces Christopher to take action…

This was one of the books I bought when I was just starting out with this blog. Who knew that it would take a year for me to get around to reading it? Needless to say, I loved taking a break from work with the book–though it did take me a few days to actually finish it as life got a little bit busy in the work front. But that’s beside the point of this post. I am here to share that I loved reading the book; it was exactly what I needed to get my mind off work during those few minutes I had to myself prior to sleeping.

Too much information?

Anyway, onto the book itself–

I loved how Miss Jones, may she rest in peace, wrote the character of Christopher Chant that you couldn’t help but empathize with him. Here was a young boy, all set for the great adventure of school and cricket–and suddenly he gets transplanted into a private tutorship with a high-ranking official. Trust me, it’s less creepy than it currently sounds.

When we follow Christopher’s life (or lives, as it were) as they take the numerous twists and turns provided by the people surrounding him, we see things through his eyes–and this, I think, makes the book really absorbing. Christopher has this wide-eyed innocence about him that you feel as if you’re discovering these magical world with him–even though he’s lived there all his life, and we’re just visitors. But what really amazed me in Miss Jones’s writing is how she was able to twist it around in the end to make Christopher seem like the unlikeable person in the eyes of the other characters. And then you look back to the chapters when you’ve seen him interact with the characters who don’t like him, and you understand where they’re coming from.

Miss Jones writes Christopher with such childlike glee, that Christopher really does come out as a child.

Considering that the book was published way back in 1988, I’m not going to comment much on the twist. I’m sure back then it was very shocking to have a friend turn out to be not so friendly–but it’s become a bit of a trope nowadays. Admittedly, it is very well-plotted out though–which is why, I guess, it was so easy to see where the story was heading with that particular story thread.

I do love how Miss Jones explains parallel worlds though–which I won’t elaborate on, as they play a part in this book’s story.

The Lives of Christopher Chant is an amazing children’s book that would be perfect as a gift–especially to those who have read the Harry Potter series (and not much else) and are looking for new worlds to explore.