Going to keep this review short because (a) I’m ridiculously behind on writing reviews and (2) I feel like I’ve said almost everything I can about this series in my reviews of the first book and the second book. The Ascendant Stars concludes the Humanity’s Fire trilogy (I know there’s a fourth book, but it appears to be a standalone), but if you’ve made it this far, then you know pretty much what to expect.
As with The Orphaned Worlds, this book includes a synopsis of the previous books at the beginning. I found this extremely helpful. Michael Cobley’s space opera series spans so many worlds, has a cast of so many characters, that I had no hope of remembering everything. The style of narration is somewhat pompous and melodramatic, reminding me of the narrator of the Robotech anime, which I’m currently rewatching after discovering it on Netflix. And that fits with the scope of this series, which leans heavily on the opera side of space opera.
If you have made it this far through the series, then you’re going to like The Ascendant Stars as well. The trilogy is essentially one, long book broken up into three volumes: the continuity is very tight, and there is no real difference between a break between the books and a break between chapters within one book. All the characters from the previous books are back, ready to take on the Legion of Avatars, the Godhead, the Hegemony, etc. As the various players converge upon Darien’s space and the Forerunner warpwell activates to spew forth the Legion of Avatars, everyone prepares to pitch in however they can.
By the same token, however, this book doesn’t do much that is new or different from the other books. I’m kind of over this series. They are fun adventures, but like I said in a previous review, Cobley doesn’t do anything new with this genre. He has remixed a lot of old tropes, and it’s quite well done, but it doesn’t stimulate me the way something like Linesman has. I read this book because I had a copy lying around and kind of wanted to find out how the story ends (even if I could guess at the broad strokes).
Part of me wishes Cobley slowed down enough to ponder the philosophical implications of so much of the technology here. Mind uploading, copying, etc., is commonplace—what does that mean for identity and continuity of consciousness? He comes close with regards to Catriona, who spends most of this story as a disembodied consciousness within Segrana. She exists as a kind of interface between Segrana and the Zyradin, and she ruminates on what she is now that she no longer has a body. In contrast, though, Julia turns into a “fractalized sentience” but is otherwise no worse for wear, apparently. (I will not spoil the ultimate fates of either of these characters, though.)
I appreciate the vast scope of this story. This really is space opera done right, at least in the sense of grandeur that Cobley’s storytelling evokes. It’s a double-edged sword, because this many characters and plots means it is difficult to spend enough time with everyone. And perhaps I just wasn’t in quite the right mood when reading this, maybe I actually hankered for a more character-driven novel. Whatever the reason, I wouldn’t say that The Ascendant Stars excited me as much as it could have—but if you want a vast, plot-driven, star-system–spanning story, then you could do worse than tackling this series.