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Heir AscendantMatthew Cox giveth, and he taketh away. This was an odd sensation, as I read Silver Light and Heir Ascendant back to back, and have the opposite reaction to each.

Sorry, but this was just too much to take. Especially once I read the afterward.

So, Heir Ascendant is the tale of Maya Oman, the daughter of the woman who controls what’s left of civilization, the CEO of Ascendant Pharmaceuticals Corporation. Maya is used as more prop than child, selling everything from vital medicine to vanity drugs with risky side effects. Lifelike android clones reside in over a dozen homes, shielding her from the violent resentment of a population straining under her mother’s control. The evil drug company’s power comes from a drug called Xenodril, a drug capable of reversing the effects of Fade, a disease some claim came from aliens or from the governments that predate the war (a WWIII event that is only loosely explained). Only Ascendant sells it, and at a price only those who can afford to live in the walled cities can afford. The rest are left to die.

Maya lives alone, with no companionships except computers and the smart apartment, and is only allowed out to promote the company in ad shoots.  Until a group of…hard to say, since they are alternately described as mercenaries (blurb), freedom fighters, revolutionaries, or terrorists…kidnap her for ransom. And this was where it stopped, originally, with the interactions between Maya and the kidnappers.

That part of the story is really well done. And works, regardless of the outcome that was originally there. I liked that, even though it comes at you very quickly, and without any real setup. That’s ok, it still works.

But that isn’t where it stops. And this is where I start shaking my head. Maya is nine. Nine. And she is engineered to be smart, yes, and all the other things, but she is still nine. She spends the whole book (or close enough) barefoot in a nightgown. And winds up in multiple firefights, crossing miles and miles of broken, ruined, city, and so on and so forth (no spoilers, right?). It leaves believable quickly, and moves into the realm of sub-par fan fiction. Sorry, but this is just not something I can buy into.

I do want to point out that at no point is the very real threat (in the modern world, much less this dystopian version) of sexual assault realized. So you won’t face that. It is discussed, and there is some off-camera abuse of a side character. It was in the past, so while it informs character actions, it is not happening in the time frame of the book.

I do think that Cox’s instinct was correct – he needed to age the character more. A mid-to-late teen would have helped a lot, even without any real plot changes. A more believable set of circumstances would have helped. Shoes. Damn, just some shoes would have helped.

The messages here are clear – evil pharma companies, exploiting child actors, bad parents. That was also a bit heavy, especially when the full scope of the actions of Ascendant come to light. It just all piled on, and defeated itself. There are bits to like, plot points that could work, I just didn’t feel it this time.

I will say this – Cox is a good author, and no one is perfect. So while this one book is not recommended, keep an eye out for his other work – they are very much worth your time and money.

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