Author: JCM Berne
Genre: Space Fantasy
Retired from a career as a weapon of mass destruction for the Imperial Fleet, Rohan wants little more than decent coffee, a chance for romance, and a career that doesn’t result in half a galaxy shuddering at the mention of his name.
When a long-dormant wormhole opens near his employer, the sentient space station Wistful, the Empire takes renewed interest in the system. As scientists and spies converge, Rohan struggles to protect his friends and his peaceful life without again becoming the type of monster that can’t have either.
Rating: Lots of Action X “Slice of Life” themes, Relatable Characters, Fun Dialogue and Story
I received a free review copy of Wistful Ascending as part of the Escapist Book Tours. This has not affected my review or rating. Now, let’s see if I can write a good review for this one without getting into spoiler territory. I think it might be possible. Also, bear in mind that the Superhero genre is not one I have ever read or watched before, so none of my comments, comparisons, or opinions should be taken in the context of any other Superhero media of any format.
Wistful Ascending is a fun kind of story. It’s fantastic in a far-fetched way that meant I didn’t mind the sci-fi elements, like AIs or a lot of other things. It’s not the biggest reason that I rarely read Sci-Fi, but I didn’t even notice things like faster-than-light travel and go “WHAT?!” at them because it just felt like fantastic world-building in a space setting, instead of world-building that was supposed to have a scientific basis, and it was kind of fun.
Ordinarily, I don’t read books that are as action-oriented as this one, but I thoroughly enjoyed it and found Rohan’s personal goals and struggles relatable, without the action or the taste of the setting detracting from either. Instead, it was a fun setting for a character-driven story that has some more to it, without (I think?) being the kind of feelings- or thought-provoking that keeps you up at night considering your own motivations or what you think about human nature.
There’s a sort of “Slice of Life” feel to Rohan’s life and desires. He just wants to be a human being, and that was something I found highly relatable. I liked how his situation, his past, and his desires are brought out in a way that makes him feel real and very human, like these are human struggles and wants, and there’s a depth of human responses. Anonymity has its downsides, and some situations cause him to sort of miss the terror he inspired before. Here’s a man with a past that’s full of destruction just trying to get away from that and have a life. He has no fashion sense and just does not care, and in a lot of ways he’s figuring out what he wants. Everything combined to provide a sense of empathy with him, his struggle with the Anger that rises in him because of his half-il’Drach heritage and the Power that it brings, his desire to live a good, quiet life and maybe make some friends. He claims to be stupid, with a head that is rather un-useful, yet in fact he thinks a great deal, on a great many different levels, from how to fight (something he’d rather not have to do any more of if he can help it) to more social endeavors or solutions. He feels or considers that he deserves to die, having committed a great many atrocities of destruction in the service of the il’Drach Empire, yet it is just that: a consideration. Nothing like a deathwish, or even shame that overshadows every waking moment. He enjoys being alive, and he would like to continue being that way.
And one of the things you get a sense for throughout the book is that Rohan is very human, and also very exceptional in a lot of ways. He’s got immense power, and his kind are used by the pure-blooded il’Drach as “weapons of mass destruction,” having been taught a philosophy of life to make them amenable to that, one full of glory and honor and all such nonsense. Rohan has always thought, and he’s always not really wanted to wantonly destroy things, so even though he’s done some pretty atrocious things, he’s also not done atrocious things most others would have. And, perhaps because he’s always thought (we don’t really get told all the reasons behind everything in his past), he’s been given some jobs expected to kill him, that he survived because he does think, instead of just “going out in a blaze of berserker glory.”
He would like to live. He has a very healthy appreciation for life. Most of the time.
And he most certainly does not want to be run over by the il’Drach Empire anymore.
Something I really liked about Rohan was his compassion. He might experience a great deal of Anger that can seriously get the better of him when he has to tap into the fullness of his Power, and he’s just trying to live as normal a life as he can manage, but he’s really got a lot of compassion. A great deal of kindness. He genuinely cares about others, even if that does not lead to getting what he wants. He might not say that, but he knows what the meaning of love is. I really enjoyed how that was touched on in the book, and on the complexities that can arise in relationships and decisions even when – perhaps especially when – people genuinely care about each other.
Side-note: There are a handful of references to “male lust,” enough so that it may be distracting to some readers. And a great many action scenes that display Rohan’s intelligence in how he goes about a fight (one place I really noticed this was Rohan’s assault on the Shayjh stealth ship – by the way, I enjoyed that – another place where I took note of it was in his conflict with the Ursan War Chief). I skimmed many of them, as that is not what I read for, but if you do, they are here! Rohan is not the only person with a personality, and the conversation/banter is really fun. ALSO, I enjoyed the way the Power is described.
With an effort of will he pulled energy up through the base of his tailbone in twin sparking, spiraling columns. They arced around his spine, winding around vertebrae and up to the base of his skull. A connection was made: a metaphysical circuit snapping shut. The Power coalesced and solidified, flooding out through his body.
And another passage, from nearer the end, that illustrates some of the – well, how Rohan feels real, the complexities of his life and what he struggles with:
The station was, to all appearances, normal. No signs of the battle he’d just fought [details cut to avoid potential spoiler]. No impact on the regular people going about their business.
He wasn’t sure how that made him feel. Why should the lives of the station residents have been affected? Why should they be doing anything different? He fought so people like these could go about their happy normal lives. Why would it bother him when they did exactly that?
Reader comment: That is why he fights. But he came to this out-in-the-middle-of-nowhere space station because he wanted to be one of the “people like these” and go about a “happy normal life.”
One of the things I noticed is how quickly Rohan flashes back into some of the ways of living he had before, except it’s totally different now. His reasons are his now. But even if he would rather not fight, and not have his life require it of him, he goes all in so readily. And it’s also, well, ironic isn’t the right word exactly, but he’s just trying to live a peaceful life, and all the sudden thing after thing starts happening that suddenly mean he’s having to use his Hybrid powers to fight all the time. And, sometimes to get injured really badly.
I also get the feeling that, while he always tried to be and took pride in being a good Lance (a Lance is a station/rank Hybrids serving the Imperial Fleet can have), I get the feeling that, when he’s fighting for his own goals – for people he cares about, that is – there’s this little bit of extra that he gives. It’s hard to know for sure, since we have never seen him fight as a Lance, but there are a few moments when it really seemed to me that he must be giving just a little more of himself. The final bit that’s the difference between a certain type of total commitment and … not.
On another note, and this was a very minor thing: there were a few places where something was described that felt odd. Like it should have been described earlier, and there was nothing about the present scene to call special attention to it. I think perhaps this was to avoid going into too much detail for too many paragraphs about something – like the shape and appearance of the Space Station was an example – at once and boring some people? Personally, I found it ever so slightly jarring.
The Spoiler Review:
As I was writing this, I realized there are some things I want to talk about in some depth that might be considered spoilers.
One of these in particular has to do with Rohan’s relationship to Tamaralinth, a woman who is attracted to him, and who he is turn is attracted to. She turns out to be related to someone “Important” who has hired the Shayjh – who are pretty creepy and nasty, by-the-bye – to monitor those who approach her in a romantic measure and keep her from having relationships that are undesired by that ‘someone “Important” (who so happens to be her father). The woman was previously in love with a man who suddenly left her, no warning of any sort, and she’s somewhat disturbed by how that relationship ended. But then the Shayjh approach Rohan to warn him to stay away from Tamara, and to warn him they will resort to any measures necessary to keep him away from her – such as threatening anyone doing business with him.
But Rohan isn’t helpless, unlike many others, and he ends up using his Powers and his reputation to bring the Shayjh in line and extract a promise from them – not just to leave him alone, but never again to mess with Tamara’s life on penalty of his wrath. And, knowing she might leave him to pursue a relationship with her previous husband if he is still interested, Rohan shares with Tamara what he has done and his surmise that her previous husband did not leave her because his love of her was false, but because the Shayjh had threatened him, probably threatened to do something like torture his family if he didn’t leave Tamara and make it seem like it was because he’d just decided to be a jerk.
This is what I meant about love. Rohan doesn’t have to tell Tamara. He doesn’t have to bargain for her freedom, rather than just his (his is implied, of course), and though he has very mixed feelings about it, he ultimately chooses to bargain for her freedom and let her know everything. And, after some thought, she and her previous husband decide to pursue their relationship. It’s a situation that’s very complicated emotionally and relationally in a real-life sort of way.
Something else that hit hard was when the second Ursan (think space bears) refugee ship comes through the wormhole, hotly pursued by warships intent on destroying all the Ursan refugees who hold to the old ways. It ends tragically, and there’s a line that really hits hard:
Thank you for trying. It was good to have hope, if only for a short while. We will remember you in the next life.
And that’s when Rohan loses it. He’s been trying so hard to save the space bear refugees, using everything he has, including his own body as a shield, something that’s uncomfortable but not that big of a deal when he’s dealing with regular bullets, but some things are too much for him. And when he fails to save the refugees, he loses it, and all his Hybrid Anger takes over, bringing with it the fullness of his Power, and this man who’s been trying so hard not to kill, not to injure more than necessary, to protect lives, kills wantonly. Mindlessly.
It really strikes him hard, and he feels horrible about it after he recovers. And here’s something an Empath tells him. It’s not really the same outside the book, but I’m still sharing it.
“I am not interested in coddling you through a bout of existential self-doubt, Rohan. You are fully aware that there are steps you can take now to gain better control of the anger that comes with your Power. You are also fully aware that none of those measures are guaranteed to be effective.
“You’re going to have to decide for yourself whether it is worth it to you to remain engaged with the world, knowing you might lose control again in the future, or if you should . . . not.”
There’s a whole lot more to mention, but I’m not really sure how to go about it.
Let’s just say there was a lot I really enjoyed about this book. I wouldn’t have signed up to read it if I hadn’t expected to like it, but it surpassed all my expectations beautifully.
Prize: An eBook, Audiobook, or Paperback Copy of Wistful Ascending!
Starts: November 24, 2022 at 12:00am EST
Ends: November 30, 2022 at 11:59pm EST