Maddison reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

Ascension follows Alana Quick, a sky surgeon AKA starship mechanic, who stows away on the Tangled Axon when the crew comes in search of the services of her sister, Nova. Alana has a chronic and debilitating illness that requires expensive medication and her ship repair yard barely brings enough in to cover her expenses, so she sees the Tangled Axon as an opportunity to leave her circumstances. However, aboard the Tangled Axon, things do not go according to plan. With a wily crew led by a too-hot-to-handle captain, Alana quickly finds herself in over her head. As the story develops it becomes clear that the Tangled Axon and their client are after Nova, not her abilities.A nefarious plot is unveiled, and Alana and the crew of the Tangled Axon have to try to make it out alive.
When I first saw this book I was really excited. Queer WOC in space! What more can a girl ask for? Ascension delivered what the cover and description promise: an immersive space adventure with a lovable and diverse cast. Koyanagi’s writing draws you into Alana’s character and her role on the ship.
One of my favourite parts of the book is that Alana is allowed to make mistakes, and does she ever. Despite being 30 system-years old, I found Alana’s character to read as young and arrogant. She believes in her abilities and her decisions wholeheartedly, even if they are not well thought through. Aboard the Tangled Axon, Alana has to prove herself and her claims that she is “the best damned sky surgeon.” Her attempts to prove herself don’t always go according to plan, and her often selfish decisions backfire, but she lives with the consequences of those action and learns from her mistakes.
For some, Alana might be too introspective of a character, but for those of us who love to get into a character’s head, Koyanagi creates an interesting and well developed character.
I have seen critiques of the way the Koyanagi handles Alana’s chronic illness and pain. I don’t have chronic pain, so I don’t think that it is my place to judge, but Koyanagi writes from a place of experience as she lives with a chronic illness. I found that there were many small details in her descriptions of Alana’s experience with a chronic illness that lent believability to the story.
For me, the ending of the novel–without going into any spoilery details–was very strange. I did not see the final plot twist coming, so if you enjoy the unexpected, then you will definitely enjoy the ending.
Would I recommend Ascension? For sure! If you enjoy lesbians in space, an introspective main character, and action, Ascension is the book for you.

Danika reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

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As soon as I heard about Ascension, I knew I was going to read it. Although I haven’t read a lot of sci fi, it’s a genre that I want to get into more, and adding a lesbian main character is the best way to draw me in. In fact, in theory this seemed like exactly the kind of book I want a lot more of. In addition to being a lesbian, the main character is also black and has a chronic illness. The other main characters of the book are also diverse (in ways that are mostly spoilers), and all wrapped up in a space adventure story. Plus, that cover is gorgeous. In fact, I was a little bit worried to start this book because I wanted so badly for it to deliver.

Luckily, my fears were unfounded. Alana is a compelling lead, and though her life–her passion for repairing spaceships, her frustration with having a chronic illness–is not anything I have experience firsthand, it was described so well that I felt immersed in her experience. The plot was interesting and kept me turning the pages (especially that ending), but it was the characters that made this stand out to me. The romance is well done, but it’s a subplot, not any more important that the relationship between Alana and her sister. All the supporting characters were fleshed out, and I loved the intricate relationships and rapport they have with each other that seems to exist outside of Alana’s role. In fact, she finds it unintelligible at first.

This was a lot of fun to read, but is also thoughtful. There were several times that I stopped to note quotations to come back to, despite the apparent simplicity: “Standing near Tev felt seductively dangerous, like waving my bare palm over a flame.” Or:

My heart thundered. I almost wanted her to not answer Birke, to never move. If she never spoke. . . if we just didn’t look at them, we wouldn’t disturb those possibilities. We wouldn’t shake one reality into existence, eliminating all others. We could just hold our breaths and live inside this moment, letting endless possibility eddy around us. All that potential would go on and on, and one day the glass leaves outside would fall, shattering around us like stars, but we would persist, frozen in time.

There were a few plot points I didn’t understand (Spoiler, highlight to read: why did they have to detonate the device inside the ship? Why not just throw it out the airlock? Why did Birke blow up Adula? The explanation didn’t make sense to me.), but other than that I had no complaints. (And that confusion is very likely my own oversight.) I am really hoping that Jacqueline Koyanagi continues this series, because I’m invested–in the characters, in the world, and in the plot. This works well as a standalone, but I want more.

Krait reviews Winged Things: A Lesbian YA Short Story Collection by Jennifer Diemer and Sarah Diemer

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WINGED THINGS is a bewitching collection of young adult short stories, ranging from paranormal to fantasy, all featuring a lesbian heroine. This collection is part of Project Unicorn, a fiction project that seeks to address the near nonexistence of lesbian main characters in young adult fiction by giving them their own stories.

Winged Things, as the blurb suggests, is part of an awesome project by Sarah and Jennifer Diemer to expand the cast of lesbian protagonists in YA fiction. Project Unicorn is currently on hiatus, but a current total of 51 free short stories are available online. Winged Things is the sixth in a series of e-zines collecting the stories of Project Unicorn, with two new stories not available online.

Generally speaking, I really enjoyed this collection. It’s the sort of thing I wish I’d been able to read growing up, where there are no tragic lesbians and everything ends on a hopeful note. There’s a lightness to the stories, no doubt helped by the motif of flying running through the collection. The protagonists are young girls growing and expanding into new and lovely creatures. (Or people, depending on the story).

On an individual basis, a few stories really stood out for me. (Some spoiler-y quotes to follow)

In “When We Flew,” our heroine Ola lives in a tiny village where everyone is born with wings, but they’re considered shameful appendages, fit only to be removed at 17. I was struck by some really gorgeous turns of phrase:

“And on the scheduled day of Removing, I removed myself. I flew on wings that had been destined for dust but grazed the stars instead.”

This particular quote is fairly typical of the narrative style, so if you prefer very precise, concrete prose, the writing might not be for you.

Both “Aphrodite Has A Daughter” and “Flower Constancy” are two stories that I would love to see expanded, whether just into a longer form or into a full novel. “Aphrodite” is a short retelling of the meeting of Eros and Psyche, where Eros is the jaded daughter of Aphrodite, the embodiment of “love-in-action.” I would absolutely love to see a lesbian retelling of the full story of Eros and Psyche, particularly in Diemer’s style. “Flower Constancy” is a historical that actually ends happily for two young women in England. I didn’t get a firm sense of what time period it was set in, but the descriptions of the house and the butterfly garden make me think Victorian.

Overall, I would definitely recommend Winged Things if you enjoy speculative and fantasy short stories, and it’s definitely suitable for young teens and up.

Lena reviews Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi

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We learn in elementary school not to judge a book by its cover, but it might be worth it for Jacqueline Koyanagi’s debut novel.  The woman on the front looks a bit like Gina Torres if Firefly had merged with Star Wars and it’s completely amazing.  What’s inside is a completely entertaining science fiction adventure totally worth of the Gina Torres look-a-like on the front.

Koyanagi’s built an interesting world with all the staples one would expect in a good sci fi.  There are spaceships, interplanetary travel and aliens, but also a thoroughly interesting socio-political landscape in which the convergence of science and magic have created a mystical super-corporation capable of economic and social control through emotional and technological manipulation.

In the midst of all this is Alana Quick, a destitute spaceship engineer or sky surgeon trying to make ends meet in her aunt’s repair shop while dealing with a degenerative disease in a world without universal healthcare.  She’s a charming character with a unique voice made up of a nice blend of confidence and insecurity.  It’s also very refreshing to see a character with a chronic illness that is part of their life but not the defining characteristic of their existence.  Instead, Alana is governed by her love of spaceships, specifically a ship called Tangled Axon that lands in her shipyard looking for Alana’s sister Nova.  Desperate to get off the planet, Alana stows on board hoping they’ll need an engineer.  They allow her to stay in exchange for helping finding Nova and Alana is promptly embroiled in the mess of their lives.

It’s a fun book.  The action moves along at a nice pace and Koyanagi has a good sense for when to push the plot and when to let her moments sit.  The relationship that blossom between Alana and the crew of Tangled Axon are the glue that holds the story together.  It’s also clear that, like many other sci fi and fantasy pieces, Koyanagi’s building a world to tell stories about people who don’t often get to be the heroes.  Her dedication to that ideal comes through strongest and what makes this such a lovely little story.  We’re presented with a world without much patriarchal or gender-based hierarchy – all the leadership roles in the book are held by women.  It’s awesome and highlights what seems like a very intentional lack of masculine presence.  One could see a missed opportunity to make something of that difference in leadership, to capitalize on the differences between the story and reality, but it’s treated as completely natural.  For the story Koyanagi’s trying to tell, that’s the stronger choice.  She gives us world that has already come together to include and showcase the people who are still finding their voices in ours.

Kristi reviews Ascension: A Tangled Axon Novel by Jacqueline Koyanagi

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Alana Quick has always dreamed of going to the stars, not being stuck on her planet fixing starships for (barely) a living. So when a crew from the Tangled Axon comes looking for her sister, Nova, and Nova’s talents as a spirit guide, Alana decides to stow away on the ship, hoping for a chance to stay. She soon discovers that the crew is rather unusual: the engineer has some rather wolf-like qualities, the pilot is disappearing into thin air (literally), and the captain, with her wild blond hair and piercing eyes, makes Alana want more than just a place on the ship. With lives on the line, can Alana find a way to make all her dreams come true?

While romance is not the core of this all-out science fiction tale, Alana, her sister Nova, Captain Tev Helix, the Tangled Axon, and her crew are intertwined in many different levels of love and commitment. The heat between Tev and Alana was believable, even while they were at odds over using Nova. I did enjoy that the author drew on her own experiences, giving Ascension characters that were dark-skinned, disabled, and/or fluid in their sexuality, as many space epics can have a homogeneous nature.

While the tale is incredibly sensitive in its world-building inside the ship and between the Axon’s characters, key moments outside happen either incredibly fast–leaving a sense of missing a paragraph somewhere–or as drawn out chapters where the story plods to the point where you lose focus on the action.There is almost too much in this book to make it a coherent story. However, this book is definitely for readers who enjoy good science fiction and varied characters, and is an entertaining read.