Bold Ascension by Vaughn Roycroft


The gods favor the bold, they say, and Vahldan believed it. His boldness had led him to victory against the Spali, earned him the futhark sword, and made him the Lion Lord of the Amalus. Now he sought the power to lead his clan back to glory, and to bring those who oppressed his people to justice. He was well on his way to fulfilling the oath he’d made to his dying father. But his father had never seen the wealth of the stone cities that lined Pontea’s shores…

The seeress had prophesied that Vahldan was the Bringer of Urrinan, and many believed. Now he could wield the power that belief afforded him, whether he was the Bringer or not. What if he really could bring the so-called civilized world to its knees? By seizing the opportunity fate had set before him, he could lead the Gottari to heights beyond the imaging of his sires and place his descendants on the first throne of a hundred Tutona kingdoms.

Though Elan often cautioned Vahldan that the gods were fickle, it seemed clear they had revealed the steps to a glorious destiny. To become the Bringer of Urrinan in truth, he had only to relentlessly pursue his bold ascension.


Bold Ascension is another epic entry in the Sundered Nation trilogy that I quickly devoured despite its over 700 pages.

All of the things I loved about The Severing Son were done just as well or better in Bold Ascension, while also adding new elements that improved the narrative even more. Roycroft continues his unique blend of fantasy and historical fiction, inspired by the Goths but with a distinct fantastical twist on events. I wrote in my review of the first book that we never really know if the magic and prophecies of this world are real or imagined, and that doesn’t change here. The author continues to play with this idea in interesting ways, and it continues to be one of my favorite aspects of this series. Vahldan is prophesied to be the Bringer of Urrinan, a play on the chosen one trope, and it would seem like that prophecy is being fulfilled. But is Vahldan really the Bringer because he was destined to become it by ancient prophecy? Or is he fulfilling that role because the people’s belief in this prophecy is driving him to do it? I love a good prophecy and chosen one storyline in my fantasy, and this subversion (or not?) is an amazing use of the trope, executed masterfully.

This also plays into the major themes of the novel; purpose, destiny, and legacy. Vahldan feels like he has to be the Bringer to lift his people to glory, but we aren’t sure if he is starting to believe in the prophecy himself. Without going into spoilers, Vahldan’s journey from The Severing Son to Bold Ascension reminds me in some ways of Paul Atreides from Dune to Dune Messiah. Like Paul, Vahldan may not entirely be the classic hero/savior we thought he was in the first novel, and the clues were there to see from the beginning. Elan too struggles with her purpose, for years she has been focused solely on guarding Vahldan and keeping him safe. But after having a child, where does this leave her? She struggles in a very relatable way with feeling lost and unsure of where the future will lead her. Though there is still plenty of action, in some ways this novel is more character focused than the first. The challenges that both Vahldan and Elan face drive a wedge between them over the years, leading to some truly poignant emotional moments.

I love the way that Roycroft subtly weaves the themes he is exploring throughout the narrative, imbedding them in almost every page but in a way that never distracts from the story he is telling. In this and many other ways, the writing itself has improved to another level from the already impressive prose of his debut. Speaking of the writing, the epigraphs that precede each chapter are among the best I’ve read. They are excerpts of a book written by the daughter of Vahldan and Elan several decades in the future, and perfectly fit into the story. They provide foreshadowing at the start of every chapter, and additional context and insight into what we’ve already read. I usually enjoy epigraphs, but I’ve rarely seen them used as effectively as they are in this book. Another stylistic choice that I enjoyed were the time jumps, we skip forward about 8 years at 2 separate points, which can be risky, but each of them feels effortlessly smooth and I never felt jarred or like I was missing something.

I deeply enjoyed the first book in this series, but Bold Ascension has cemented the Sundered Nation trilogy as one of my favorite reads of the year, and the concluding novel as one of my most anticipated for next year. I can’t recommend these books highly enough, especially for readers who enjoy deep themes and epic scope in their fantasy.