Book Review: Ascendant (Songs of Chaos) by Michael R. Miller


Ascendant, Songs of Chaos Book One, by Michael R. Miller. A white dragon wearing blindfold towering over a young man in armor holding a blue orb, with a dusty sunset beyond.Series: Songs of Chaos, #1

Author: Michael R. Miller

Genre: Fantasy

Book Description:

Holt Cook was never meant to be a dragon rider. He has always served the Order Hall of the Crag dutifully, keeping their kitchen pots clean.

Until he discovers a dark secret: dragons do not tolerate weakness among their kin, killing the young they deem flawed. Moved by pity, Holt defies the Order, rescues a doomed egg and vows to protect the blind dragon within.

But the Scourge is rising. Undead hordes roam the land, spreading the blight and leaving destruction in their wake. The dragon riders are being slaughtered and betrayal lurks in the shadows.

Holt has one chance to survive. He must cultivate the mysterious power of his dragon’s magical core. A unique energy which may tip the balance in the battles to come, and prove to the world that a servant is worthy after all.


When I read the premise of Ascendant, I decided this was a book I’d take the chance on, even though I’m not much into hard and progression magic systems. But the premise of a boy who saves a dragon egg that the Order and the dragons would have killed, got my attention.

When I read it in the book, I decided it was even better than I’d imagined. Holt has always dreamed of being a dragon rider, but as a mere kitchen boy that’s almost unthinkable. But then the old rider Brode hints that he might have the opportunity – for there have been dragon riders who’ve come from the ranks of commoners and servants before – if he throws the flawed dragon egg over the cliff to its death below. For, Brode says, hard things are required of dragon riders, and if he cannot do this, then he is not worthy and capable. But Holt finds he can’t, and in a moment of luck he goes even further, and spirits the egg away and hides it.

This, to me, is the moment that sets Holt – and this book – apart. The dragon riders are the good guys, the champions of the living in the interminable battle against the rising Scourge. They’re also the “authority.” Yet they do evil, and it is right of Holt to defy them. That spirit in Holt, that lets him stand up to and defy his very heroes when they command atrocities of him, instead of justifying and turning a blind eye to their evils, is almost enough to make the book for me.

But after saving Ash, Holt has a lot of struggles as he does what’s never been done before and what so many tell him is wrong in so many ways, especially when the Scourge rises and betrayal destroys all he’s known. His relationship with Ash is really sweet, and I liked both the boy and the dragon a lot. They work together very closely, since being blind Ash needs Holt’s vision to fly. And you can just see that they love each other. Ash is the picture of innocence and purity, and at the same time fiercely defensive of his boy. Meanwhile the other dragons look down on him for his weakness, and together he and Holt have to cling to their value.

And another thing that really made the book stand out to me so much is this: Ash is unique, probably because the other dragons like him, who have his magic uniquely suited to fighting the Scourge, are never allowed to hatch. But there’s a scene near the end (I won’t go into the details to avoid giving spoilers yet) where it’s emphasized that as great and encouraging as this is, the greater encouragement, the greater hope, is the purity of Holt and Ash’s bond. The love they have for each other, as two who simply yearn for each other’s company and want to live together, instead of wanting something – power, security, escape, honor, adventure, or perhaps more nefarious things still – from each other. That is where the hope for the world, for the two races of humans and dragons, and all the living, is found.

There’s a lot in the book that isn’t clearly delineated in black and white. There are times when Holt’s choices – the very ones I love most – are challenged. There are times when things that are absolutely abominable – and disturbing – are condoned as necessary. But so far, Holt has not turned back from making his own choices from his heart. Instead, he challenges the Order and the assumptions and rules it makes for life, and grows more confident in who he is and the choices he has made.

“You admit to your crimes?” Eadwulf asked.

“If saving a life is a crime, then yes.”

Something else I also noticed is that there is a saying, something of a motto or battle cry in the book, “Order defeats Chaos.” The link between Order and the Order of the dragon riders is obvious, but the Scourge is assumed to be Chaos. Yet when you look closer, the saying seems a bit odd … with the kind of oddity such mottoes often have. It isn’t that simple, and it shouldn’t have taken Holt and Ash to show people that, for the Scourge isn’t Chaos. When you learn about its formation and meet it in battle, one finds it is very much like a Hive, ordered as ants and driven by the Queen of the Swarm. In fact, it almost seems as if, in some ways, the Order might be emulating the Scourge ….

What constantly annoyed me about the book though is its lack of originality in world-building and magic, and the video game mechanics of the magic itself. The magic was horribly like leveling up in a way that really didn’t feel organic, and the way it gets used felt too much like a video game. As for the world-building and setting, it seemed to have very little originality, drawing heavily on inspiration from several popular novels and video games. Even the names of things – including characters and character types – were sometimes jarringly unoriginal. But what I especially did not care for the focus on battle as the primary way that a dragon and rider progress in their power. At the same time, something else – love, desire for each other – is such a huge factor for Holt and Ash, and even how rapidly their power grows, that I found that more tolerable.

But while I didn’t care for the magic system and unoriginal world-building, I understand a lot of people nowadays are into these kinds of magic (gamelit, I understand it is called?) and not everyone minds unoriginal world-building. Neither this, nor the fact that I was pretty confused by the politics stuff at times, as it’s introduced rather quickly with a lot of names and some characters who are called by multiple names, none of whom you actually have met yet, challenged my pleasure in other elements.

On a related note – a little thing I liked – it was kind of neat how much Holt, being a Cook, thinks in metaphors of food and food preparation and cooking. It was rather well-done, in my opinion. I also thought the way Holt and Ash can share their senses to fly together was really cool, and I liked how Ash’s senses are developed. He’s limited by his blindness, but quite capable, too. It made for a very interesting connection and partnership. I will repeat again that I really enjoyed both the boy and the dragon, and especially their relationship and connection to each other. When Ash first sees another human through Holt’s eyes, he says,

“I wish I could see you this way.”

And Holt responds,

“Nothing a mirror won’t solve one day.”

I just thought it was really sweet.

There is another dragon-rider pair of main characters, Talia and the fire dragon Pyra. I’m not going to go into a lot of detail about them, first to avoid making these too long, and also because they weren’t my favorite characters. Holt and Ash are that. But I did feel their journey and development added something to the story, and that Pyra’s personality was very vivid.

(Also, am I getting better at saying what I feel is important without giving away too many spoilers? Or am I getting sloppy and sharing spoilers?)

Michael’s Website

One thought on “Book Review: Ascendant (Songs of Chaos) by Michael R. Miller

  1. Pingback: A-Z Book Tag – Enthralled By Love

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