I picked up Rules of Ascension randomly from the library. I was wandering around the shelves and saw the guy on the cover and thought, “huh, he’s oddly white…” This sealed the deal. I had to learn more about the abnormally white guy on the cover (isn’t my thought process fascinating?). It was rather exciting to pick up a book I had never heard of and knew nothing about. The experience paid off. I didn’t have high hopes for this book, but it ended up pleasantly surprising me.
David B. Coe takes his time setting up a rich and intricate world. For the first third of Rules of Ascension, this attention to detail and world building can be tedious and is almost a hindrance to the overall plot rather than a boon. There are no real sides to the conflict, and furthermore the reader spends much of this part of the book wondering what the conflict even is. While the world is rich, deftly built and incredibly vibrant, the plot somewhat falters because of the lack of clear direction. Furthermore, characters slip in and out of the pages fluidly, not really staying in the book long enough to attract attention or really make much of an impression.
This unusual start, however, works in the favor of Rules of Ascension. Coe uses the overall ambiguity of the plot and characters to lend the world and the overall conflict an ominous gray aura that sets the book apart. Where many books have obvious black and white sides in their plot conflicts, Coe’s attention to detail and intricate world building coupled with the slow boil of his plot work nicely together to insure that the reader can find someone or something to relate to, no matter what side of the conflict they are reading about. Many authors strive for this, but not all attain it.
The detailed world building, complete with unique cultures and traditions, puts Rules of Ascension firmly in the “epic” category. The world is vast and the peoples are well thought out. The magic system, however, was what interested me the most. It made sense within the context of the world and managed to be both complex but understated at the same time.
As I’ve mentioned above, the plot isn’t straightforward. The reader will spend about a third of the book not knowing exactly what the problem is, or if there are even protagonists. This may be frustrating to many, but if you read this section of the book and absorb the detailed world building, the rest of the book will leave you on the edge of your seat. As with many things, you have to pay a little before you get your reward and the reward with Rules of Ascension is well worth the wait. The complex, gray plot and multifaceted characters easily make up for the slow start. The ending is well done and nicely hints at an expanding plot in further books.
Coe’s writing isn’t over the top; it is detailed and descriptive without being flowery. This benefits the book as a whole. Rules of Ascension already has so much happening in it, on so many different levels, that overly descriptive prose would bog the book down rather than lifting it up. Coe managed to toe a very thin line in that regard.
All in all I really enjoyed Rules of Ascension and am quite surprised that the WINDS OF THE FORELANDS series hasn’t raised more of a fuss among fans of epic fantasy. The beginning is rather slow, but the world building is quite well done. Once the plot really takes root the book is almost impossible to put down. Coe’s writing nicely complements his complex world and plot. If Rules of Ascension is any hint as to the quality of the rest of the series, Coe has birthed something amazing here.
FanLit thanks Sarah Chorn from Bookworm Blues for contributing this guest review.