Carthage Ascendant by Mary Gentle
My rating: 2 of 5 stars
Charlie Brown of "Peanuts" (tm) fame will never get to kick Lucy's football, but for pithy profundity he remains unsurpassed by his pen-and-ink peers. Charlie Brown once lamented that there's no heavier burden than having great potential, an astute observation that proves too often true. Carthage Ascendant all but collapses under the weight of unrealized potential.
In a brutal age of bloodshed and miracles, in which sorcery extinguished the sun, the fate of Europe, Africa and perhaps the entire world rests in the hands of a female mercenary captain named Ash. The undefeated army of Carthage rampages across the kingdoms of Europe. Burgundy alone defies the Visigoth horde and their legendary slave general, the Faris. In the center of enemy territory lies a living stone idol that whispers in Ash's soul to guide her through every military campaign, a being of frightening power that must be destroyed if the world hopes to survive.
But an even greater evil lurks at Carthage, one that created the idol and shaped Ash's existence. It plots the final annihilation that will feed its own lust for power and wipe Burgundy from the face of the earth. For Burgundy lies at the heart of it all, the richest prize in Europe and the key to the world, the jewel of the Carthaginian campaign.
So much for the book's back-cover teaser.
Don't look for the defeat of this "greater evil" in Carthage Ascendant. I suspect it won't even be resolved in the forthcoming Ash novel, The Wild Machines, since Avon advertises the series as a tetrology. Oh, Ash gives it the old college try, so to speak, as she slashes and cusses her way into the enemy's lair and back out again, but the plot follows a predictable if brutally realistic parabolic curve.
The literary device of presenting the story within the framework of a newly discovered historical document, which I admired in its predecessor, A Secret History, fails to reach its potential in Carthage Ascendant, too. The second installment of Ash's story ends like so many mega-fantasies, with nothing resolved, as if printed on a wad of bathroom tissue and torn off to a convenient length for packaging purposes.
But, hey, if you want something to pass the time while sitting on your throne, then go for this novel. If I were you, I wouldn't waste time reading it anywhere else.
(Originally published in Crescent Blues. Reprinted with permission.)
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