*Checks watch* yep, it’s still October, so I can’t help myself, it’s still spooky time, and there is nothing spookier than finishing a long anticipated trilogy. Well, there definitely are spookier things, but we’re talking books here. It’s hard to leave characters you’ve grown to love behind and see where their journeys end up. And for Nick and Johnny, what a journey it has been. The third and final novel in Premee Mohamed’s horror duology, The Void Ascendant is bittersweet and the kind of ending the series deserves. As this is mostly a review for those who have read the Beneath the Rising and A Broken Darkness, as there is a spoiler ahead for the end of book two.
Seven years ago, Johnny Chambers, brilliant scientist and tech entrepreneur, destroyed the world. Her ingenuity and fierce determination to rid the earth of the Ancient Ones once and for all pulled the Earth, and herself, into a black hole. As far as Nick is concerned, good riddance. After all, Johnny is to blame for the Ancient One’s interest in the world anyway, and her consistent skirting of their pact was bound to bring it all down. Seven years ago Nick woke up on an alien planet, at the foot of a tower, and bestowed with the title, Royal Prophet. His dreams became the subject of scrutiny, his words interpreted to be the fate of the kingdom he was now a part of. A kingdom subjugated by the Ancient Ones. Now war has come, and the Ancient Ones demand soldiers to spread their tentacles through the universe. But Nick knows the score, play along and you live, well, most of the time anyway. However, when a rebel by the name of Yenu, who strikingly resembles Johnny, is found within the impenetrable royal vault, his world is turned upside down again. The worst part, she has the exact same kind of plans Johnny used to come up with. Will Yenu convince Nick that rebellion is the only way to save the universe from Them? Or will Nick play along to reduce the suffering around him?
I have a confession to make, I read this book way back when it came out in April. When I finished it, I didn’t know how to feel about it. I thought about it a lot, but I wasn’t sure I was ready to really dig into it. I didn’t dislike the book, but I didn’t love it in the same way I adored the first two. But I couldn’t explain why. So I sat on it, and when I felt ready, I re-read the entire trilogy just a few weeks ago to give it another shot, and boy am I glad I did.
While books one and two were about Johnny Chambers, and her toxic relationship with Nick Prasad, The Void Ascendant placed it’s focus squarely on Nick himself. It asked, what becomes of a man who has been so beaten down and betrayed by the one person he felt he could rely on? Well, he becomes the royal prophet! He sees no escape from the grasps of the Ancient Ones. He won’t actively please them, but he won’t actively disagree with them either. They are too powerful, too omnipresent to offer a challenge to. They will always win. Mohamed’s writing here is impeccable as she displays the inertia within Nick’s mind. His way of fighting back involves not sharing his real dreams, but he gives them something to work with. When Yenu crashes into his life, the defense mechanisms kick in hard, and he immediately tries to apply the breaks. His incessant internal bargaining delivered an oppressive atmosphere of doubt to everything. Yes, he hated the Ancient Ones, but what can he do? The smartest person in the world couldn’t beat them, what was one guy to do?
On top of that, all Yenu did was re-entrench Nick to his new line of thinking. He doubted every idea, internally and openly amongst her ragtag crew of rebels. He felt They were always watching, and he took every chance he could to dig his heels in. He wanted Them to know he harbored no ill will towards them. He wanted to be kept in the fold so that he could throw whatever smaller wrenches in their gears he could. Mohamed upped the ante on Nick and Yenu’s relationship with a constant low grade building tension. Gone is most of the fun playful banter, replaced by suspicion and open hostility on Nick’s part. Occasionally the old rhythm leaks through, before Nick realizes he’s slipping and puts the wall back between them. Given her past actions, it feels truthful to his character, but it’s still heart wrenching. She may not even be Johnny, but he certainly treats her as such, making the rebels that captured him miserable with his opposition to their liberation. Whereas Nick was inside the fight before, he stands alone in The Void Ascendant. Even his trusted Advisor, a thirteen foot tall onyx Sphinx known only as The Advisor, debates openly with him, questioning his motivations, though in a more brotherly capacity than a contemptuous one.
Speaking of keeping things fresh, Mohamed really opens up her universe within The Void Ascendant. The Ancient Ones are nearly masters of the universe, conquering worlds as they see fit. Aradec, the world Nick now calls home, is just one of those worlds, and now they must give lives to the Ancient One’s forever war. Yenu’s rebels are assorted peoples, from both Aradec and other worlds. While it’s not overly detailed, I enjoyed Mohamed’s chaotic approach to worldbuilding. Sometimes it can feel like “oh, here’s this other thing,” but it often plays to the unknowable and alien nature of the Ancient Ones desires for conquest, and their ebb and flow of power in the various worlds they have tied into their dominion. It feels like a conjured together mass of peoples that They don’t really care about beyond their conquest of. It can get a little confusing, especially if you’re one to search for details, but Mohamed avoids bogging herself down, and thus universalizing the fight against Them. That’s even before you find out about the Elder Gods, a separate group of very powerful beings who lost a war to the Ancient Ones. So just strap in for that.
Mohamed maintains her frantic prose with an incredibly rollicking story involving the revival of the Elder Gods to fight the Ancient Ones. It pulls from ideas that were set up both in books one and two, and definitely benefits from a quick re-read of the others. It isn’t absolutely necessary, but there were a few details that I was thankful for refreshing myself on before giving the final book its due attention. At times it feels like Mohamed just throws something at the reader to force an obstacle in the character’s paths, but it didn’t really bother me here. The previous books always focused on Nick and Johnny, and the final book doesn’t stray from that. It builds up an epic fight for the end, but doesn’t rely on it to drive the story.
Lastly, Mohamed still plays with the class and racial aspects to Yenu and Nick’s relationship. She muddies the water a little bit this time, inverting their power dynamics a little bit. Yenu still has Johnny’s flair for the impossible schemes, the need to assert power over Them, but it has a different nature this time. She’s still unpredictable and untrustworthy based on her history, but it feels less distinct. Nick, however, is calling from inside the house. His passivity towards the Ancient Ones, and active hostility towards the rebels’ desires of freedom make him an enemy to his older self. Not to mention, he can’t decide whether Yenu should be stopped because she’s a tool of the Ancient Ones or because she’s going to get everyone killed. It’s not as clear cut this time around and it adds to the tension quite a bit.
I’m sure some folks will be frustrated by Mohamed’s intensely chaotic nature in these books, but it’s what I’ve come to expect of her, and she always delivers in spades. I can count on her for incredible internal thoughts, fun pop-culture references (subjective I know, and I generally dislike them), and painful but truthful relationship dynamics. I’m so glad I picked up Beneath the Rising when it came out, and even more glad I gave the last book another shot after some time away from my spring slump. If you haven’t given this series a shot yet, and you want a fun yet critical portrayal of Lovecraftian lore that respects the ideas it can strive for, definitely pick up Premee Mohamed’s Beneath the Rising Trilogy. And if you have finished book two, and haven’t finished the series, it’s worth your time. It definitely was worth mine.
Rating: The Void Ascendant: 8.5/10