Pages: 392 (hardcover)
Published: 2010 by HarperTeen
(Book #2 in the Killer Unicorns series, sequel to Rampant)
Synopsis: Astrid Llewelyn is now a fully trained unicorn hunter, but she can't solve all her problems with just a bow and arrow. Her boyfriend, Giovanni, has decided to leave Rome, the Cloisters is in dire financial straits, her best friend's powers seem to be mysteriously disintegrating, and Astrid can't help but feel that school, home, and her hopes of becoming a scientist are nothing but impossible dreams.
So when she's given the opportunity to leave the Cloisters and put her skills to use as part of a scientific quest to discover the Remedy, Astrid leaps at the chance. Finally, she can have exactly what she want--or can she? At Gordian headquarters, deep in the French countryside, Astrid begins to question everything she thought she believed: her love for Giovanni, her loyalty to the Cloisters, and most of all her duty as a hunter. Should Astrid be saving the world from killer unicorns, or saving the unicorns from the world?
Killer Unicorns. The first time I heard those two words, I was immediately intrigued. (Which isn't so reassuring, as I'm pretty sure a lot of people would have snorted with laughter upon hearing them.) But after reading Rampant and Ascendant, I'm never going to think of unicorns the same way again. Diana Peterfreund has created an entirely unique and fascinating (not too mention totally bad-ass) world in her Killer Unicorns series.
Remember the old stories about unicorns being lured in by innocent virginal girls who sat alone in quiet groves while the King's hunters waited in the shadows of the trees to shoot the mythical unicorns down? Astrid Llewelyn is that virgin. Well, one of them. She and about a dozen other teenage girls form the Order of the Lioness-- a revival of mythical society of nun-like women who dedicate their lives to slaying unicorns and protecting the world from their deadly venom and carnivorous natures. Astrid and her fellow hunters are ordinary girls from all over the world-- distinct descendants of Alexander the Great--, but when in the presence of a unicorn, they are transformed into powerful hunters with lightning-fast reflexes and unstoppable power with their bows and arrows. The only problem is that unicorns were thought to be extinct for hundreds of years, and everyone has all but forgotten the legacy of the unicorn hunters and what exactly their purpose is. Some of the girls have become fierce warriors dedicated to their cause since the beginning of Rampant, but others have shied away from hunting. Astrid's cousin Phil is determined to win endangered status for the dwindling species of unicorns she once mercilessly hunted, and Astrid herself begins to question her status as hunter and whether unicorns are truly the evil, man-killing mythical beasts of legend-- or simply animals who are dying off like so many others in the modern world. Astrid meets her ex-boyfriend Brandt (who was attacked by unicorns and revived using a mysterious Remedy) in France and is suddenly torn between Brandt-- who understands the unicorn crisis, being a victim himself-- and her art student boyfriend Giovanni, who has returned to America for university. Astrid takes a job at a laboratory where unicorns are being experimented on-- an easy job watching the meek herd of resident unicorns. Or so she thinks...
Ascendant is definitely a deeper, more serious read than the more lighthearted Rampant, and we're spared most of those long scientific explanations from the first book, since the stage is set. That said, I don't think anyone could really enjoy this book without having read Rampant first. I'm not completely against skipping around in series myself, but this is one where most readers would find themselves utterly lost. Ascendant is a powerful mix of myth and modern science, fantasy and harsh, bleak reality. I love how the hunters are normal girls unless they are around unicorns, and even they are far from invincible. Their condition is a double-edged sword, which is the Killer Unicorns series all the way. The book is filled with revelations and crises and pretty much nonstop action. I really enjoyed this second book and hope that Diana Peterfreund writes a third one-- there are so many plotlines and characters left hanging!-- to make this series a trilogy.
Characters: 4/5Overall: 4/5