Every Sky a Grave – by Jay Posey (Review)

Both covers are good, though I probably prefer the UK’s

The Ascendance #1

Scifi, Space Opera, Fantasy

Skybound Books; July 7, 2020

384 pages (ebook)

4.0 / 5 ✪

GoodreadsAuthor Website

I was kindly provided an advance-copy of the book in exchange for an honest review. Many thanks to Skybound Books and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.

A planetary assassin from an all-women sect that wields a forgotten tongue as a weapon, Elyth was taught that her actions save lives and protect the universe from conflict and evil. Her order, the House of Ascendance, have been taught the Deep Language since they were young. Combined with the Herza—soldiers that wield advanced technology—they make up the two arms of the Ascendance, which rule the galaxy as a whole. Over millennia they have honed it to root and strife and dissidence from within, protecting the Ascendance from threats.

Elyth is a true believer, one that will do everything in her power to serve the Empire’s vision, even if it means giving her life in the process. Fresh from a successful mission to quell a planet on the verge of sedition, Elyth is sent to Qel, a world possibly infected by the Markovian Strain—a corrupted version of the Language, thought to have been wiped out.

See, there’s a reason why only women are trusted to learn the Deep Language. Years prior, a man named Varen Fedic began using the Language for evil, attempting to dominate the Empire for his personal rule. Though it started on Markov, the strain soon boiled over to other worlds, and the corruption spread. Together, the Herza and House were able to defeat and destroy the Strain, but its legacy of terror remains.

And so Elyth is sent to Qel to investigate.

Unfortunately, nothing goes to plan. When her ship crash-lands on Qel, Elyth is hunted like prey, barely able to get a sense of the world she has come to investigate. But that which she does only builds her disquiet. For whatever is happening on Qel is truly strange and mysterious, but despite all the warnings she received regarding the corruption of the Strain, Elyth begins to suspect what the House taught her—while certainly its truth—perhaps wasn’t the full story.

As with many other reviewers I’ve seen, I was quickly impressed by the world-building. From the very first chapter (which gives a taste of both the Language and the Ascendancy), I had no trouble imagining and detailing the adventure unfolding. Posey does an excellent job building up the world (or worlds), the hierarchy of its empire, and the ancient—yet still enigmatic—Deep Language. While I was prepared for it to be just another attempt at blunt words-of-power magic, it somehow manages to convey something more, an intricacy that’s intertwined with the foundations of the universe. What follows is a curious blend of space opera scifi and sorcerous fantasy that I enjoyed on two levels, and think will appeal to fans of either genre.

Unfortunately, the world-building is not without its flaws. While early on we are treated to a decent history lesson on the foundations of the world, throughout the text there are references that made me think that the author was holding out on me. While the Markovian Strain plays a huge part in the story, the history of the Ascendancy itself felt lacking—as it was hard to tell just how old or noble they really were. Though it’s not absolutely necessary to the events on Qel, I really feel it would’ve been helpful to compare the evilness of the Strain to something. Being told something is evil isn’t always enough; it’s often important to relate how or why it’s bad. While it…. urrrgghh. Okay. While the world-building was excellent, it often felt as though the history of the Ascendancy as it related to the story was lacking. Or incomplete. Does that make sense? It didn’t contract from the story, but felt like it was missing out on an opportunity to really bolster it.

Elyth is a strong lead, and her character development—while not the best ever—was quite something. A true believer from the outset, it’s interesting to watch her evolution as she discovers that while she was told the danger of the Strain, perhaps it wasn’t the whole truth. She’s a loyal and stubborn servant, but also an inquisitive and independent one. While she does whatever she can to fit her discoveries within the lines of what she believes, she never discounts anything out of hand, despite what it means for those beliefs. And so her evolution is interesting—whether it be progression or regression, even sometimes both.

I had little issue getting into Every Sky a Grave, but a slight problem in the middle. Action, stealth and tension war with philosophy as to which controls the pacing, but neither wins out. As such, the pacing was a bit odd at times, making it easy for me too rattle off fifty pages, only to take me a half hour to get through a dozen. While I never struggled to read this, it’s not exactly an action-packed thriller. There are periods of action, yes, but it’s all balanced with stealth, mystery, philosophy, and more. That wasn’t an issue for me, though it might be for you.

Though the conclusion wowed me (there was even a certain LOTR moment that brought chills), the lead-in to it was hit and miss. There were some unlikely events, some great ones, and even one that was a head-scratcher. All in all, however, it was a great adventure.

TL;DR

Every Sky a Grave combines in-depth world-building with strong dialogue and fascinating character progression to tell a tense, gripping story that somehow manages to incorporate both fantasy and science fiction, while committing to neither genre. The mysterious Deep Language is a unique magic-system, while its space-opera roots are evident in the world and its characters. With a strong female lead and an interesting story you should have little trouble getting into the read, though its second half struggles to decide between philosophy, action, and stealth—which really makes the pacing odd. At times I tore through pages, while others I had to read and reread sections to make sure I understood them. Despite this I thoroughly enjoyed Every Sky a Grave and look forward to the continuation of this new series, Posey’s best start since Three!