Rating: 4.5 stars
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Length: Novel

Sasha Andreyev grew up in the smallest and poorest of towns in Russia where no one ever got out. He dreamed of a better life, but not having seen anything else but the deplorable conditions he lived in, Sasha had no idea what he was really dreaming of. He was also hiding what was seen as the worst of secrets, as being gay anywhere in Russia was a sentence to the worst of violence inflicted on him. But Sasha managed to get out of his small town and joined the Russian Army. He worked hard and became a skilled fighter pilot, but despite Sasha fiercely trying to hold on to his secret, his teammates were also unforgiving, and Sasha was brutally beaten and left for dead.

But Sasha continued to be a survivor and found a new life in Moscow working with President Sergey Puchkov. Sasha became a Russian hero and risked certain death to reclaim Russia from a coup, and all the while he knew he was in love with Sergey. But Sasha could never inflict his shame on the president and despite Sergey returning his feelings, Sasha ran.

Sasha has spent a lifetime desperately trying to leave the parts of himself that he loathes behind, but that has made him hollow and broken and exhausted. Sasha needs to make himself whole again and it will take a journey to the frozen depths of Russia, and a tribesman, to bring Sasha back to himself so he can stand next to Sergey in the light.

While Ascendent is listed as book one in Tal Bauer’s Executive Power series, it is directly related to the Executive Office series and picks up directly after the events of Enemy Within, the final book in that series. Enemy Within was a truly amazing book and finished off the long-standing story of Ethan and Jack. Sergey, as well as Sasha, were prominent figures in the entire series, with Sasha having a true focal point in that third book. None of the books work as standalones and it’s a powerful and well written series.

Ascendent is Sasha’s story. Because Sergey is linked to Sasha, it is also his story as well, but Sergey is back in power and is sure of his feelings and what he wants. Sergey sums up the entire book in one sentence when he thinks that, “He was setting. Sasha was ascendent.” Sasha was the hero fighter pilot in the last book and he was willing to give his life for Russia, for the world, and for Sergey. It seems that nothing can hold Sasha down; from his traumatic upbringing to equally traumatic time in the army, Sasha seems to get stronger and stronger. Yet, Sasha loathes the part of himself that is gay and that has everything to do with people trying to beat it out of him. Sasha has tried to shed the parts of himself he feels will only cause him further pain and he is soul sick.

This book is about Sasha’s journey back to himself and it’s descriptive with vivid imagery. In the previous book, Sasha met Kilaqqi, a tribesman, and although his character was only on page for a short time, he was too dynamic of a character for the author not to return to, and Sasha goes back to the coldest depths of Russia to find Kilaqqi and heal his soul so he can return and stand with his soulmate, Sergey. The scenes become ritualistic and even Sasha isn’t aware if he is dreaming or if he has reached a higher plain. The style here is a departure from the previous books and while it may not appeal to all readers, the story itself is powerful as Sasha valiantly, almost desperately, tries to reclaim himself and face down his traumatic past.

The book also shows Sergey back in power and trying to set Russia back on a path of rebuilding. But damage has been done and while Sergey has allies, there are still enemies hiding, and while Sasha and Sergey find their own personal balance, this story is still not finished. While some of the imagery became a little too abstract for my tastes at times, and while I would have preferred Sasha’s past to have been given more concrete details in some areas, his story was incredibly powerful and lingered with me for days. Tal Bauer is an exceptional writer with cohesive storylines and engaging characters from various stations in life, and you should do yourself a favor and pick up this author’s work.