by M.L. Brennan
Have you ever found a book that was a dead perfect fit for your mood? When I picked up Dark Ascension, I was still reeling from some incredibly depressing recent reads and just looking for something a little fluffy. Neither the title nor the cover of Dark Ascension gave me much confidence, but as soon as I started reading, I started smiling.
Fortitude Scott is cursed, and not just by his gawdawful first name. Fort is a vampire, and a scion of the powerful vampire who rules the entire supernatural world in the northeast. Fort is, to say the least, conflicted about his family and their tactics, particularly the kill-first-and-ask-questions-never methodology of his sister, Prudence. He's happy enough living with his (literally) ghoulish roommate and working nights at a karaoke bar, even if he's heard enough Bon Jovi for a lifetime. But with his mother, the matriarch of the vampires, quickly fading, Fort is suddenly faced with the hardest task of his life: getting along with his sister.
Despite the title, Dark Ascent is one of the best examples of "feel-good" urban fantasy I've found in a while. Sure, bad things happen, but there's this inexplicable layer of niceness over it that, while it doesn't minimize the bad stuff, keeps the book heartwarming despite it all. The plot itself moves at a measured pace as Fort tries to get adjusted to the changes in his life, and I enjoyed every minute of it, from a pack of kitsune teaming up to trick everyone at the karaoke bar to sing Bieber songs to Fort's blood-drinking experimentations. There's enough pathos to keep the plot moving, and Fort's frustrations with his siblings are practically tangible, but even so, the book never lost its feel-good aura. Part of this was due to Fort and his superhuman levels of optimism. Take his reaction to a late-night emergency meeting at a skeevy diner:
"When it comes down to it, twenty-four hour diners are wonderful, because where else can you walk in and get French toast at any hour of the day? If nuclear fallout ever ended up happening, my plan was to hole up in a twenty-four-hour diner and just eat French toast."
Fort is pretty much a teddy bear. If anything, he's a little too bleeding-heart to feel genuine, but even though I tend to hate too-perfect characters, I found Fort incredibly likeable nonetheless, possibly because his frustration at his own impotence feels so genuine. As Suze notes, Fort is
"A marshmallow Peep in the microwave of the world."
And that brings me to Suze, Fort's kitsune girlfriend and a wonderful character in her own right. Suze is a wacky firebrand with no concept of tact or consequences. The interactions between Fort and Suze were simply hilarious, from their Christmas gifts to one another (he gets her a "What Does the Fox Say" t-shirt; she hires someone to steal his car and take it to a shop to fix the radio) to her very literal interpretation of a request to "watch the ham" (she watches while it burns) to her very special gift after Fort starts teething--but hey, at least it's not a terrycloth ice-cube-holding octopus, so it could be worse. (Yes, this actually comes up in the book.) And then there's her idea of an after-fight make-up gift:
"You climbed a tree and broke into my room this morning, didn't you?"
Her smile widened.
"You climbed a tree, broke into my room, kidnapped one of my sweaters...all to surprise me with--oh, shit, what else did you do?"
I could probably keep quoting this book all night, but long story short, if you're ever in the mood for a fun, funny, heartwarming bit of vampire-laced urban fantasy, you have to give this book a try. As for me, now I know what series to turn to when I need a feel-good urban fantasy.
~~I received this ebook through Netgalley from the publisher, Penguin, in exchange for an honest review. Quotes were taken from an advanced reader copy and while they may not reflect the final phrasing, I believe they speak to the spirit of the novel as a whole.~~