When I saw Hot Key Books offering proofs of this book on Twitter, I thought it looked like a laugh – Love Island in space? Yeah, I can get behind a bit of summer fluff. But wow, this was so much more than that! It blew me away to become one of my favourite reads this month, and will probably be in my Top Ten of the Year!
Book: Ascension by Victor Dixen
Read before: No
Ownership: Physical proof sent by Hot Key Books for fair review.
So, the main premise of this book is that 12 contestants are being sent to Mars to start a colony there. They’ve been selected from thousands of willing participants, and the whole world is watching as they travel through space, speed-dating with the opposite sex to select their spouses to populate Mars. It sounds ridiculous. But we quickly learn that all is not as it seems – you thought Earth reality TV was manipulative? Wait until you see the machinations behind this project!
I’m not big on space-y sci fi in novels as I get bored with massive blocks of tech, but found this very engaging as it was far more about the characters than the technicalities of being in space. However, the workings of the ship and the effects of being in space were explained so simply and casually that I found it super easy to follow along with the world-building. It’s very easy to visualise the girls’ living quarters, and the stunning glass dome of the Visiting Room at the top of the ship.
It’s important to note that this book is translated from French, so the fluidity of the writing is in part down to the author, Victor Dixen, and in part down to the translator, Daniel Hahn. As a side note, I actually speak French, and since the next book is already published in France but doesn’t come out here until October, I’m currently reading it in French as I couldn’t wait – Hahn has done an amazing job of capturing the poetic but simple feel of Dixen’s prose. There’s almost nothing to choose between them, stylistically. It’s gorgeous to read in either language. There are some cultural differences – I don’t think that the trend in English writing is to use exclamation marks in speech – but even if you only read these in English, the writing holds up to the whole rest of the market.
It’s impossible to talk much about the plot without giving away spoilers, because there are so, so many twists that you never really know which way is up (ironically, for space). Just rest assured that in reading it on a long train journey, I was actually disappointed when we reached our stop, because I was so thoroughly engrossed. I think that the comparisons to The Hunger Games are well deserved – the only material thing they have in common is the element of teens in a televised competition, but there’s an incredibly well-crafted feeling of unease and mistrust of authority in both settings that really keeps you turning the pages. I’d love for this to get huge like The Hunger Games.
Léonor, our main character, is a gloriously written woman. I fell in love with her – she’s multi-faceted and intriguing every step of the way. Without spoilers, again, it’s tricky, but I loved the portrayal of her anxieties about her body (this is in part a beauty contest, after all) and the quick and self-preserving way her mind worked after having been self-sufficient all her life. More Slytherin heroines please. That being said, there isn’t a girl on this ship that isn’t complex and interesting and different from the others – we only really see the boys through the speed-dating, so I hope we get to learn more about them as the series progresses.
I absolutely can’t wait for the next book, Distortion, which is out in October (as I said, I’ve literally dusted off my French to get started early!). If you’re in the mood for something fun, or thrilling, or secret-y, or with fantastic characters, then definitely pick this up! It’s a five star from me!