It’s been a week since the apocalypse. The gates of Tartarus have opened, spilling out Dark Breed (demons, vampires, zombies and the like) onto the earth. Many humans have been killed and the rest driven into hiding. Kyana is technically Darkbreed herself — half vampire and half shapeshifter — but has mastered her urges and works for the Order of Ancients, which is fighting the Dark Breed menace and trying to protect as many humans as they can. Kyana learns that a key possessed by the long-dead god Cronos enabled the opening of Tartarus, and with her friends and allies, has to figure out who knew of the key’s existence and used it to unleash hell.
“Sable Grace” is a pseudonym for the writing team of Heather Waters and Laura Barone. I’ll say up front that they make a terrific team. Their collaboration is seamless; at no point could I tell they’d switched off.
That said, Ascension got off to a rocky beginning for me, mostly because of the heroine. Kyana is abrasive even by urban fantasy heroine standards and can usually be counted on to make the rudest possible remark at any given moment. She’s also bigoted against humans, and it’s some time before we learn her prejudice has been shaped by a traumatic past, so at first it makes her hard to like. Then she’s assigned to team up with Ryker, a bastard son of Ares, with whom she has a bitter history. Bickering and involuntary dips in the River Styx ensue. Another issue is that overuse of capitalized terms and “creatively spelled” terms are pet peeves of mine, and Ascension features Vampyres, Witches, Lychen (lycanthropes), Shyfters, and so on.
I was surprised, then, that by page 100 I was hooked on this story. The authors spin a suspenseful mystery that rings changes on Greek mythology without warping it beyond recognition. Among the changes are the mixing of Greek gods with the more standard urban fantasy creatures like vampires and werewolves, and the concept of the Chosen. Periodically, a god begins to weaken and needs to pass his or her power on to a successor, and the Chosen are the people destined to receive that power. In this apocalyptic world, Chosen are dying alongside other mortals, which throws an additional wrench into the gods’ plans.
Initially I was enjoying the story in spite of Kyana, but slowly I began to like her too. This is partially because more is revealed about her history and how it’s shaped her, and partially because she matures over the course of the story. In the latter half of the book, there are several notable instances where she bites back a snarky comment because she knows it’ll be counterproductive. Ryker is a complex character too, with an admirable desire to be better than his callous father and to show Kyana that she, too, is a better and more valuable person than she thinks she is. Their relationship is compelling once it starts to develop beyond bickering, and the authors write a good sex scene that perfectly illustrates the difference between casual and meaningful sex. I also loved Kyana’s witch roommate Haven, and the enigmatic Irishman, Geoffrey, and the twist concerning him.
My opinion of the ending depends upon whether the next Dark Breed book is set in Kyana’s and Ryker’s points of view again, or whether the authors switch to other characters. (Ascension blends the conventions of urban fantasy with those of paranormal romance thoroughly enough that I can’t make a confident guess.) If the next book jumps to different characters, then the ending of Ascension is not quite satisfactory; there’s still history to be revealed about Kyana and issues in her personal life to resolve. If we stay with her and Ryker for the next book, the ending works well as a temporary stopping point. It leaves plenty of loose ends to keep me coming back for more — and after a fun, exciting first book like Ascension, I’ll definitely be coming back.
Dark Breed — (2011-2012) Before the Fall is a novella. Publisher: The gates of hell have opened, and one woman will stand in the crossfire as the Dark Breed — vampyre, demons, shape shifters — and mankind fight their last battle for survival. Kyana is half Vampyre, half Lychen… And the last of her kind. Determined, dangerous, and damned, she has no love for the mortals who have imprisoned and misused her. But when the Order of Ancients entrusts her with a mission — to find the key that will send the Dark Breed back into Hell for eternity — Kyana has no choice but to accept. She is furious to learn her assignment comes with an escort… Ryker, a demigod and fierce warrior who long ago found a way under her skin and stayed there. In a shaky alliance, they discover an ancient cult with dangerous motive and a god who seeks to destroy all others. And as Kyana begins to feel the heat that threatens to bind her to Ryker, she knows she has to resist. For it could only mean the undoing of them both…