The Ascenditure by Robyn Dabney is a story which takes place in Kietsch, the capital of Ectair, in the land of Galvaith. Ectair is separated by a man-made waste land called Miter’s Waste, from a country to the north called Ainar. Legends abound about Ainar’s people and their hostility toward Ectair. Ectair society respects nature and the environment, worshipping gods of the sea and mountains, sharing stories of their powers, and retelling tales of their conflicts. Living among formidable mountains, the Ectarians take great pride in their history of mountaineering. To be among the best climbers in the country is the aspiration of all young men of Ectair. That is, until Klarke Ascher, a female climber comes along and tries out for the elite mountaineering team, The Ascenditures.
The elevated status of the Ascenditures in Ectair revolves around their important role in making dangerous climbs to repair the country’s infrastructure like decaying bridges and in scaling steep mountains in treacherous conditions to retrieve certain naturally growing substances from plants for King Adolar and as treatment for a mysterious lung disease called pulmonosis suffered by many in their country. Klarke’s father was a famous Ascenditure mountaineer who apparently died at sea in a shipwreck. Her mother also died of a strange ailment called Death’s Whisper, so as an orphan, Klarke was left without family and without hope for a future, other than as someone’s “brideprize.” Fortunately, Ellias, a friend of her father and the lead Ascenditure, takes Klarke as his pupil and trains her to become the first woman to try out for this elite mountaineering team. Although her climbing skills are superior to all the other contestants, she is unexplainably and blatantly not offered the honor of becoming an Ascenditure. Why? Is it simply because she is a woman, and no woman has ever become an Ascenditure? Is it her parents’ history with the king? Is it because the King feels threatened by the influence she has with the people of Ectair? Or does the answer lie in the mysterious land of Ainar on the other side of Miter’s Waste?
I really enjoyed The Ascenditure by Robyn Dabney. The beginning of the story was very reminiscent of Katniss Everdeen in Hunger Games. Fortunately though, the setting, mountaineering aspects of the story, folklore, and plot eventually diverged enough from the typical storyline of a heroine seeking freedom in an oppressed, dystopian society, that this book and story became unique and original. Readers will find that The Ascenditure is unpredictable and filled with great characters, a fast moving plot, mystery, and intrigue.
The imaginative country of Ectair was beautifully described, along with its location and history. The map at the beginning of the book was very helpful as an overview of the setting. Ectair reminded me of a country like Norway or even like North and South Korea, and how the latter are divided by the DMZ. The creative use of various foreign sounding words in the dialogue works to cleverly remind the reader of this story’s past, far-off, fictional setting. The use of these foreign sounding words in the dialogue though was also challenging, as the reader needs to decipher the meaning of these unusual words from clues and context. Centering the story on mountaineering also made for a very interesting and engaging read. I learned a lot about climbing from this story, even though many of the terms and techniques were not familiar to me and could have been described better.
Ms. Dabney is very imaginative, on the order of Lois Lowry and J.K. Rowlings. This was especially evident in her incorporation of folklore into the story and the extra dimension it added to the developing plot. I felt that most of the characters were very well-developed such as Klarke, Ellias, Kiel, King Adolar, Prince Otto, and Rayna, Klarke’s friend. In her writing, Ms. Dabney also does a terrific job with her dialogue among characters. Furthermore, I found her very skilled at creating suspense in her writing. Overall, I really enjoyed Ms. Dabney’s writing style, and at times, I found myself unwilling to stop reading because she had engaged me so much in the developing story.
Since this story is written as Book 1 of a series, it sets up many plots and subplots which are mostly left unanswered by the end of this book. I did find it disappointing that after reading over 300 pages, I did not get a bit more of my questions answered and more closure of some of the subplots. Imagery and symbolism throughout Book 1 though foreshadow things to come in Books 2 and 3. These books should continue the themes of women vs. men, humans vs. nature, freedom vs. oppression, and individual effort vs. teamwork. And I expect these books will be very exciting as there is still a lot to be revealed and scores to be settled. Ms. Dabney’s The Ascenditure series is destined to become classic, perhaps even a movie.