Review: DARK ASCENSIONS (Generation V #4), by M.L. Brennan
Posted by maddalena@spaceandsorcery
After finishing this book I went in search of information on the Generation V series, and the possibilities to keep on reading about Fort, Suzume & Co., and what I found did not encourage me greatly: there are two more books planned, but they have yet to… find a home, so to speak, and therefore the author is concentrating on a new series. Much as I’m sorry to have to say goodbye (at least for now – I’m an incurable optimist) to these characters and their adventures, I can take comfort in the knowledge that I can look forward to more stories from M.L. Brennan: given how much I’ve enjoyed the Generation V novels, I know that I will buy everything she puts on the shelves, sight unseen.
That said, let’s move on to the review for the fourth installment in the series…
Transition. This is the word that has been looming ever larger on Fortitude Scott’s horizon since we first met him, and here – in a book that is mainly concerned with transformation and passage – that transition has become unavoidable, in more ways than one. Madeleine Scott’s failing health, something we have been aware of from the very first novel in the series, has reached the point of no return and her passing heralds a series of changes that involve the main characters, both singly and as a group.
Madeline’s death is one the most quietly moving pieces of writing I can remember: I kept thinking, as I read, that in less skillful hands it could have skirted into cheap sentimentalism, but instead it turned into something that was both tragic and intensely emotional: “I felt the bond shatter, like a fluted sugar sculpture that had been spun out like stained glass and is dropped to the floor. The death of the bond, and the death of my mother, cut through me, and the pain was unimaginable.” Those scenes were further enhanced by a few touches that reminded me both of a pharaoh’s death and a Viking’s funeral – which were entirely appropriate for such a strong, commanding character. The aftermath presents what is probably the most difficult challenge that the Scott siblings have faced until now: since Madeline refused to name her heir, her three children are forced to work together and reach decisions… by committee. Considering the huge difference in their personalities, the ensuing stalemate is hardly a surprise.
All three of them have come into their vampire-hood in different ways, so that Prudence – the eldest – is the less interested (to be nice about it…) in the collateral damage resulting from any decision, and her first and only answer to any problem remains destructive violence. The phrase “death by Prudence” used by Fort at some point might be humorous in intent, but it paints an all too clear picture of the Scott firstborn’s attitude. As the middle child, Chivalry stands between his two siblings, acknowledging Prudence’s need for a strong response and Fortitude’s penchant for the softer approach. And Fort himself, not surprisingly, is the one who always advocates taking the less violent, more humane path.
Once more I asked myself, as I observed the interpersonal dynamics between the three, if Madeline’s choice of different upbringings for her children was some sort of experiment, her way to shape a different path for her successors – or even for the vampire community. If the ultimate goal was to attain some kind of balance, the trio’s first attempts at it are less than successful, the only agreement they reach concerning as mundane a matter as the interior décor of the mansion… What this means for the future of the family, and the empire Madeleine built, remains to be seen, although Prudence’s way of resolving the first impasse is far from encouraging. And yet there is hope for the three of them because – despite the differences in personality and outlook – they share a strong, if often unspoken, bond of affection transcending the individual leanings, much as Prudence’s side of it still scares the hell our of Fort, as he sums up with: “My sister was never more terrifying to me than when she was showing her affection.”
Another, more compelling consequence of the matriarch’s death is the completion of Fort’s transition into a vampire: until now, he has been able to deny his nature (or at least to keep at bay its less savory aspects) by emphasizing his humanity and accepting only the “good” sides of being a vampire, like increased strength and more acute senses. But without Madeline to draw blood from (in what I always saw as a very twisted analogue to breast-feeding…), Fortitude has no other choice but to submit to his needs, to finally acknowledge that he must drink blood to survive. Again, I want to praise Ms. Brennan’s choice of giving this very dramatic moment a completely different outlook from what I expected: Suzume’s presence, as accomplice and moral support, removes any shade of horror or grossness from the scene, and even gives to Fort’s first feeding a patina of rightness that both eases him into this new side of his life (without “post-meal remorse”, as Suzume labels it) while helping the readers keep their image of the character substantially unchanged.
Suzume is indeed Fort’s center of gravity, the true rock on which he can stand – which is sort of funny, given the kitsune’s unpredictable behavior – and she’s the one who provides much-needed balance to his constantly shifting world and perspectives. Their relationship is one of the best facets of this story, because it’s quite unconventional and free of any traditionally romantic overtones – and how could it be, when Suze unashamedly bills the Scott family for the time she spends in Fort’s company? Despite this “hiccup” and the constant hazing she inflicts on him during his working hours (just two words: Kitsune Karaoke – enough said!), it’s clear that Suzume is quite committed to Fortitude and their relationship, and seems pleased when he takes a stand about it. Her ultimate goal is to wake him up to the though realities of life, so that they will not overcome him. As she tells him at some point: “I just don’t want you to end up like a marshmallow Peep in the microwave of the world.”
This fourth book in the Generation V series is a game-changer, one that leaves its readers with many questions about future developments, and therefore makes the uncertainty about the continuation of the story doubly frustrating. Nonetheless this is a series I would recommend strongly to both enthusiasts of the genre and to those who are new to Urban Fantasy, on the strength of its rich characterization and strong writing.