REVIEW: The Ascendancy War by Richard Swan

Last Updated on March 8, 2024

After being absolutely blown away by Richard Swan’s Reclamation, book one in The Art of War trilogy, I was chomping at the bit to delve back into this brilliant sci-fi space opera universe. The Ascendancy War expands on the spiralling conflict that began in Reclamation, with the provar of The Ascendancy and humanity going head to head, billions being slain in every chapter, a growing larger threat, and the best and worst of humanity heading to the front lines and beyond. If you can say one thing about The Ascendancy War it’s that space opera fans that lean a bit more towards military sci-fi angle are in for an absolute treat.

Cover for The Ascendancy War by Richard SwanAs in book one, The Ascendancy War is told through a range of human points of view. In this book, Swan gives us a bit more of his dark side by introducing a character that, naturally, I really enjoyed: The Vulture. A behind-the-lines operative creating chaos and terror on the worlds provar think are safe from humanity’s forces. The reason I mention The Vulture first is not only because I enjoyed this new darker character slant, but also because this character showcases one of the key story arcs of the book, and Swan once again manages to expertly layer a very human story as a spine to a galaxy-spanning war the pace and likes of which humanity has never experienced.

The counterpoint to The Vulture is Von Aban, a human privateer turned traitor to his species to profit from The Ascendancy. His new masters have a task for him, to track down The Vulture and end his terrorising of The Ascendancy’s planets and people. Von Aban gives us an insight into some of the machinations of the provar lords, and some immensely … ick … moments, to say the least. There is very little to like about the man, but his drive for acceptance and reward for his sub-standard efforts help create the backbone to this book.

To showcase the more sprawling layer of the story, Andrea Constance is the new president of the UN, and is a less war-like president than her predecessor in the most war-like situation in human  history. Through her eyes we see the numerical tragedy of humanities losses, the greater machinations of inter-species politics as we wait to see which side cracks first, understand the difference between the religious zealots of the provari crusade fleets and the more formal rule of their version of lords, and the pressures of the biggest job in the galaxy. We also get asked the important question of how far are we willing to go as a species to survive, and should we be constrained by the rules of war when we aren’t fighting other human beings?

While there are a few other points of view in The Ascendancy War, the final one I want to highlight is Gia. She lives on a Tier Two planet (aware of interstellar travel, but incapable of it) that is relatively peaceful. She’s bored, feeling trapped, and while watching pirated feeds of the galactic conflict raging around her planet, dreams of adventure. However, The Ascendancy don’t care, and through her eyes we see the wanton power imbalance between the tier two and three planets. From there, we see her story develop into a lens into the UN’s military ground forces, and we get some of the most adrenaline-spiking scenes in the book.

One of the best parts of The Ascendancy War is the depiction of the war. Swan writes amazing space opera and military sci-fi battles. Whether they are in the void or on the ground, this is just non-stop high octane reading that I couldn’t get enough of. And there is a lot of battle in this book. Fans of military sci-fi, you are in for a massive treat.

The Ascendancy War is perfect for fans of The Expanse and Warhammer 40,000. It is space opera meets military sci-fi in a non-stop action thrill-ride you’re going to struggle to put down.

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Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins

Adrian Collins runs Grimdark Magazine and loves anything to do with telling darker stories. Doesn't matter the format, or when it was published or produced--just give him a grim story told in a dark world by a morally grey protagonist and this bloke's in his happy place. Add in a barrel aged stout to sip on after a cheeky body surf under the Australian sun, and that's his heaven.