by Kara Dalkey
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Kara Dalkey has begun another of her evocative series with Ascension, which is being marketed as a juvenile, but is readily enjoyable by anyone. Dalkey focuses her attention on the mermyds of Atlantis as they are preparing to select a new member for their council, which is made up of mermyds and squid-like Farworlders living in a symbiotic relationship. Nia, a young mermyd of the Bluefin clan, has the ambition to represent her clan in the Trials which will determine which mermyd will join the council. Her story is one of coming of age and learning to deal with a world which is not everything it originally appears.
Dalkey's Atlantis formed an alliance with the alien Farworlders, some time before the Sinking. This alliance resulted in a council which is comprised of symbiotes made up of one Farworlder and one Atlantean. As the tale opens, one of these symbiotes has announced its retirement and Nia, a mermyd of the Bluefin clan hopes to represent her clan in the Trials which will determine the Atlantean member of the Council. Her hopes are rapidly dashed when her disdained cousin Garun is appointed the Bluefin representative.
As Nia deals with her disappointment, Dalkey provides the reader with a guided tour of Atlantis and its society. In the process, she slowly reveals some of the history of Atlantis, its people, the aliens and, of course, the Sinking. However, Dalkey does not provide all the answers to the questions she raises, but leaves several hints throughout the novel about the direction she intends to take Nia.
While the Council is supposed to be comprised of the best and the brightest, Nia is firmly of the opinion that her cousin falls into neither category. Her parents and grandfather refuse to discuss Garun's selection, a situation Nia ascribes to their knowledge of how much she desired the appointment. It is this state of affairs that leads Nia to question the world she as has been taught to see it. Figures of respect are suddenly viewed with cynicism and distrust. Long held beliefs are shown to be based on a series of institutionalized falsehood which only the Council is aware are not true.
Nia and her circle of friends, including her grandfather and her beau, Cephan, of the disrespectable Stingray Clan, are all likeable characters who help draw the reader into the story and the world. Less likeable characters are seen through Nia's adolescent eyes, and naturally include her parents and others who she feels stand in her way, such as Garun. Dalker does not dwell on them and their supposed character flaws, merely discounting them when they stand directly in Nia's way.
While Ascension stands on its own, it is the first book of a series (clearly stated on the front cover). Dalkey gives various clues as to where she is going to take the story. These clues, while not obvious are also not hopelessly obscure to people with a knowledge of folklore. As the novel is aimed at the juvenile market, these clues may go unnoticed. However, Ascension is an interesting book which builds an intriguing world which will welcome its readers.
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