REVIEW: Rules of Ascension by David B Coe

For 900 years, since the Qirsi War, the Forelands have enjoyed relative peace. The Qirsi leaders, Weavers whose powerful magic could bend to their will not only the elements but also the thoughts of others, were all killed. The rest of the pale-skinned Qirsi were scattered throughout the realm. They were no longer a threat without their multi-talented leaders. But though most Qirsi live normal lives, and some even serve lords as advisors, all is not well in the realm. There is a Weaver in the Forelands again, secretly sowing seeds of rebellion against the physically hardier but unmagical Eandi.

Lord Tavis of Curgh, raised to succeed his father as duke, and engaged to the beautiful Lady Brienne of Kentigern, seems bound for greatness. But just as his life seems complete, he is accused of a horrific act. Little can Tavis know that the Weaver is using him as a pawn in a vast plot. Now, only a Qirsi gleaner can help Tavis survive his doom, reclaim his good name, and prevent a devastating civil war in the Forelands.

Warnings: Violence, torture, racial tensions

Category: M/F

Sometimes perusing second-hand book stores can help you discover hidden gems of the book world. Other times you can find some real misses, books that are forgotten for good reason. But most of the time, you typically land in the middle of the road. I picked up this fantasy novel with high hopes of an epic adventure, so let’s dive in to the first in the Winds of the Forelands series, Rules of Ascension.

The story is a wide, sweeping tale of political drama, war, and conspiracies, as the 900 year peace between the Eandi and the defeated Qirsi is about to be shattered by a daring plot by a powerful Qirsi sorcerer to usurp the Eandi houses and put a Qirsi on the throne. Lord Tavis of Curgh is framed for the murder of his fiancé, and it is up to the sorcerer Grinsa to rescue him and find a way to prevent this plot from succeeding in plunging the Eandi into civil war. Told from multiple POVs, this does a good job at weaving an epic narrative and keeping the reader interested throughout. With so many moving pieces, this is a very complex and compelling plot, and it is structured well. Unfortunately I have to say I was disappointed in the lack of any very principle female character. All the women in this book are either plot devices (Tavis’s murdered fiancé), romantic interests (Grinsa’s lover) or familial relations (Grinsa’s sister, Tavis’s mother). Women have very specific and regimented roles not only in the society here, but also narratively; they serve the purpose of framing the lead men’s actions. The author does try to give us some feminist ideas by having some of the women rant about how the men think they can boss them around, but it isn’t backed up by the story caring much about its female characters at all.

While the author does a very good job of fleshing out an interesting story, I was less interested in any of the characters themselves. They all feel fairly one-dimensional, and while there is some glimpses of Tavis at least having a character growth arc, it isn’t realized by the end of book 1. Hopefully book 2 allows him to grow and develop, because as of book 1 he is an insufferable ass and I had trouble making myself care at all what happened to him. The other characters are pretty one-note, and the only one I was even a little interested in was Grinsa, the “good” sorcerer. I was also intrigued by the assassin character, but we barely got any POV chapters with him, which brings up my biggest complaint with the character development, which is that it has so many POV characters that we never really have the chance to connect emotionally with any of them. It’s so concerned with hopping around a huge cast of POV characters that it leaves by the wayside the kind of connection I look for from a book like this. Towards the end I found myself growing frustrated every time the POV changed to yet another new character that was only going to have one or two POV chapters.

I think the worldbuilding here is interesting. It’s fairly standard high fantasy, with lords and kings and sorcerers and what-not. There is some lore and backstory that informs a lot of the political arena in the present time. The Qirsi are a race of sorcerers that 900 years ago attempted to conquer the Forelands of the Eandi. They were defeated and scattered across the lands, and in present time live as second class citizens; oppressed and hated at worst, tolerated at best. They serve the Eandi lords as mages, or travel with caravans telling fortunes for Eandi children. Given this background, I had a hard time accepting the Qirsi conspiracy as being in the wrong- there is an undercurrent to the story of the “good” marginalized person who accepts their status versus the “bad” violent marginalized person, that I found rather distasteful. It is possible that this is addressed more in the rest of the series but as of book 1, I was put off by the respectability politics of Grinsa as a hero.

Unfortunately there is no sex! This book would have been made monumentally better with sex. There are a few relationships that are depicted in this book, and sex happens either off-screen or is refereed to as past events. There isn’t a lot of time spent on these relationships either even in a non-sexual light, which I found disappointing because it would have given the story more of that emotional component that I found so sorely lacking. I am, of course, intrigued immensely by the evil sorcerer, as he carries easily the most presence of any character, but he doesn’t show up until the very end of the book. There are some very nice and visceral torture scenes that I thought packed a punch in the intimacy department, and that’s the closest this book comes to to depicting any actual intimate connection (negative rather than positive but I take what I can get).

This book was a strange one to reflect on and review because ultimately it has little wrong with it in terms of writing prowess, but still managed to miss making me invested enough to pick up book 2. The lack of intimacy or emotional connection to the characters in this narrative, combined with the subtle sexism and racial ideas turned me off the rest of the series. It’s not a terrible book, but it just did not wow me.

Have you read Rules of Ascension? Let me know what YOU thought by leaving me a comment!

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