It’s pretty rare that a sequel is better than the original book (although sometimes they are easier to get into because you know the characters) but I loved Ascendent.
Astrid spends much of the novel conflicted about her duties, which I enjoyed because slaughtering unicorn babies is quite different than protecting someone from a giant unicorn about to crush or poison them. I think if Astrid wasn’t torn about how she should use her powers or if she wanted this life I wouldn’t have liked her. Phil manages to play both sides of the unicorn hunting debate with grace, leading the protests about eliminating an endangered species and simultaneously leading the hunters that are doing the killing. She refuses to play the victim after being raped and remains one of the strongest characters.
There are lots of ridiculous jokes about virginity because it’s a requirement for the unicorn magic and “getting out of the business” of unicorn hunting is a euphemism that get’s overused a bit. The thing is that it works for the book, because Peterfreund pokes fun at the purity requirement. She has Astrid’s band of unicorn huntresses be pressured into wearing nun habits as hunting uniforms because the church that sponsors them thinks they are showing too much skin and should be representing themselves in a more civilized manner. The resulting camouflage habits covered in blood create a both hilarious and disturbing image, that plays on the ironies of the “innocent” warrior.
Both Giovonni and Brandt fell short for me in the romance department. Not the most attractive love interests if you ask me, Astrid could do better. I think the lesbian couple were the cutest together.
The roles of the media and the pharmaceutical company are really interesting and I wish there would have been more details about them both.
The section of the book after Astrid is injured in battle is my favourite part, but alas I will avoid spoilers….