Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything–even destroying planets–to get their hands on her.
Whenever Jacqueline Koyanagi’s debut Ascension is talked about, the first thing that comes up is the fact that it has lots of elements so sorely lacking from a lot of genre fiction – LGBT people, people of colour, people with disabilities – united in its female protagonist. This raised expectations highs for the story, expectations that the book certainly met. I had a lot of fun with this book. Alana is a great protagonist and I loved the themes of love and acceptance, both of others and yourself that Konayagi wove through the narrative. In addition, there is a seriously steamy romance, which I really loved.
Alana is a woman of colour, living on the Fringe on a world where human technology is slowly being ousted in favour of the new-fangled Transliminal technology from the Othersiders, people who have managed to create a rift between the multiverse and travel it at will. For Alana, who is a starship engineer or Sky Surgeon, this means that business is slowly dying away and she and her aunt are seriously struggling to make ends meet. When the Tangled Axon touches down in her yard, she grabs her chance and stows away, hoping for a chance at being a true Sky Surgeon in the Big Quiet. But Alana also suffers from Mel’s Disease; an auto-immune disease that makes her depended on her medication to keep her condition from deteriorating and has her in chronic pain. And stowing away on the ship means she might end up without her meds.
Koyanagi handles Alana’s pain and disability in a fantastic way. She keeps it front and centre and ever-present, just as it is for Alana. We see her continually considering whether what she wants or needs to do is possible for her and worth the pain. We see her setting the pain aside and pushing through, going through barriers and sometimes even going too far and doing herself damage, just so she can do what needs doing. Koyanagi also takes a frank look at Alana’s envy and resentment that her sister Nova didn’t inherit this disease and she did, which is fascinating and leads to some interesting character building and conclusions on Alana’s part. I found it a very honest emotional development and crucial to how the relationship between these two sisters is woven.
The bond between Nova and Alana and the development of their relationship was really well done. Through the conflict displayed Alana doesn’t just learn to accept Nova, but herself. She learns that Nova isn’t just the flighty and ethereal airhead Alana thinks she is, but actually has some pretty impressive abilities and is really good at what she does. Similarly, Nova sees that Alana’s being a Sky Surgeon is more than a hobby; it’s what makes her happy. When Nova tells her so, it allows Alana to finally let herself step out of her sister’s shadow. It also ties in to the development of her relationship with Tev, the Captain of the Tangled Axon, which is pretty interesting, since Tev is in a polyamorous relationship with Slip, the ship’s doctor. Alana needs to come to peace with the fact that to have the love she desires is to accept that about Tev and become comfortable with it, to feel secure in the fact that ‘sharing’ Tev doesn’t mean Tev loves her less, but that Tev chooses her and and Slip every time they are together and that love is multiplied, not divided.
In between all of this feelings stuff, Koyanagi weaves an interesting mystery/quest for the crew in figuring out why the CEO of Transliminal wants to see Nova so badly and to get her to cure both Alana and the ship’s pilot Marre, who seems to be losing her corporeal state bit by bit. The denouement of this plot took me quite by surprise and without giving spoilers for it, was dramatic and emotional. Ascension is an interesting book that I enjoyed a lot. It ended on a wonderful note, which leaves the book open for more in the series, but also created a self-contained story, which is complete in and of itself. I’ll certainly be keeping my eye out for more books featuring Alana Quick in the future.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.