A Rogue Librarian's Reading List

{August 4, 2012}   Ascendant by Diana Peterfreund

Plot: When Astrid and her fellow hunters destroyed a herd of killer unicorns and cut ties with Gordian pharmaceuticals, she dared to hope that the worst was over. But now her boyfriend is leaving Rome and her best friend is mysteriously losing her powers. She is even starting to question her sacred duty as a hunter. When the new head of Gordian pharmaceuticals offers her a job, safety and a good education, she jumps at the chance. But while guarding a herd of captive unicorns, she starts to wonder whether her duty is to protect humanity from savage unicorns or to protect the unicorns from humanity.

This is the second and final novel in Peterfreund’s Killer Unicorn series. If you are new to this universe, you can read my review of the first novel, Rampant, and the novella, Errant. The tone of this book was, I feel, a little different from the first. Peterfreund draws the focus a bit away from unicorn hunting and the problems of having a boyfriend when you’re a virginal hunter (though these things are still important!) to focus on what I think are some very thought-provoking issues.

The central tension of the novel is between those, like Astrid’s best friend Cory, who want to erradicate the unicorn and those, like her cousin Philippa, who wants to save them. Astrid is torn between the two positions: as a healer, she doesn’t want to see anyone harmed but neither does she want to kill unicorns for merely existing. It is the dilema of protecting endangered predators: when does the safety of humans outstrip the animals’ right to exist? Added to this is the question of animal testing and when it is justifiable. Peterfreund gives no easy answers to these questions, and unlike in the first book, there are no clear villains to blame for the horrors that Astrid faces, and sometimes causes.

Astrid’s ex-boyfriend Brandt plays an important role in this novel and her mother’s cruelty and selfishness is, if possible, worse than ever. But I was disappointed that the other hunters still got very little development. With the exception of Cory, who struggles with the loss of her powers and who falls in love unexpectedly, the other girls are still only a little more than names. It’s a shame, but perhaps some of them will eventually get short stories like Wen does in Zombies vs Unicorns. A girl can dream. 🙂

The story took a very unexpected turn about two thirds of the way into the novel. Astrid and her priorities are forced to change dramatically. Peterfreund handles this change and Astrid’s conflicted emotions beautifully. The ending that followed surprised me but it made perfect sense for Astrid and for where she was in her life.

Peterfreund changed the way I look at unicorns and the girls who hunt them. This is a wonderful series for fans of fantasy and strong girls. I also encourage you also check out Peterfreund’s sci-fi reinterpretation of Persuasion, For Darkness Shows the Stars. It was one of the best books I read this year.

2012 (#79)

Title: Ascendant

Series: Killer Unicorns (2)

Author: Diana Peterfreund (http://www.dianapeterfreund.com/)

Publisher: Harper Teen

Year: 2012 (first published in 2010)

ISBN: 978-0-06-149005-7


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