Guilty pleasures are books that I like more than I should, either because they have good potential and ideas but poor execution. I’ll review them, tell you why I like them, and why they fail enough to be a guilty pleasure instead of a true one. The first book in my guilty pleasures list is The League of Ascenders by Spring Hellams, a Christian fantasy novel.
The League of Ascenders has a fascinating premise. Around the world, there are young people called Fledglings. Fledglings discover that they all can fly, and also possess one other power which varies between them: some can use telekinesis, some can run super-fast, and some can heal others. These Fledglings just appear one day and have no memory of their past, and often are adopted by people who find them. One day they get an impulse to leave their families and go somewhere, somewhere they don’t know of. However the protection they have against evil fades, and malicious powers can attack them then. But if they can reach it, the mansion of the League of Ascenders is waiting for them, and the knowledge and purpose of their destiny, too.
This makes the book sound a lot better than it is, sadly. The premise is excellent, a cross between X-men and Maximum Ride, and written for Christians. It has a delightfully campy villain in Stygian, and a gentle spirit that is refreshing. It’s good to read something that isn’t about angst,doom, and pain. There are also some fine little scenes which add more to the book than they should: more books should do introductions the way Spring does, doing it exactly as a group icebreaker. “Hi, I’m ___ and I like ___. I hate ___ though.” *Changes a fish into a cat to show his transmogrification powers. The fish seems to like it.* I also liked the Christmas party scenes, just because it is rare to even see one in a book. Spring uses slice of life in a good way, to show character, and it works better than it should.
But it still is a guilty pleasure. The book is far too long, with endless descriptions of what they do and very little real action. At times she is silly when she shouldn’t be, such as the infamous “coconapple.” Apparently the Ascenders are so smart they can crossbreed a coconut and apple. The intelligence tends to push the characters into Mary Sue territory. All smart, all brilliant, pretty women and gorgeous men. The villain is sadly underused as his minions: he calls up corrupted giant animals to fight, but most of the book is given to the fledglings falling in love or resolving some pretty mild personal dilemmas. The writing is average at best; very first novel, but not bad for an indie one.
The ending and revelation of what the Ascenders are falls flat too. Without using spoilers I don’t think the beings they are really work that way in Christian theology, and it would be better to just go with the obvious X-men parallel. The book feels incredibly long due to pacing, too: its estimated at 400 pages but feels double it.
I still think of it as a guilty pleasure, because the potential of a great story is there. Guilty pleasures make me imagine and extend the story instead of laugh at it. It also taught me that using the mundane can sometimes work in spite of itself, and you can use a silly or unexpected way of showing and introducing characters instead of the typical “look into a mirror” idea. But it warned me about being too long and neglecting the action, and to be careful about not making my characters too perfect and getting sidetracked from the main plot of the book.
I’m not sure I recommend it. A guilty pleasure is something that strikes me specifically for reasons that are arcane even to me, and to others they might just see a bad book instead. I’d give the sample a try, but view this as a highly feminized version of X-men/Maximum Ride, and get used to a lot of Christianity if you do.