I picked up this book with great expectations. Hocking's Trylle series has become one of my favorite Young Adult series and couldn't wait to see what surprises the author had in store for the conclusion of this fantasy series and the plethora of unique characters created to exist in it.
Wendy is forced to grow up fast when she is faced with the impending death of her mother Elora, Queen of the Trylle, becoming Queen herself and running a kingdom she has only barely gotten to know, turning eighteen, and her arranged marriage to her friend Tove, a powerful Markis with a very influential family. Of course, there's still the issue of Wendy's love for the tracker Finn, a pairing that would require both to be banished from Forening, and Finn's insistance that duty come before love. While it pains Wendy to see Finn working around the palace, knowing he's made his choice and can't be her's, she focuses her energy on preparing the kingdom for war with their rival Changeling clan, the Vittra.
Ascend opens on the eve of Wendy's eighteenth birthday. Like any other eighteen-year old, she spends the evening laughing and havinga care-free time with her friends. She knows this will be the last time she'll be allowed to have this time with them all, regardless of their place (or lack thereof) in Trylle society. Matt, the brother she grew up with, is just an average human, the equivalence of pond scum in this high-nosed society. Willa is Wendy's closest friend and the most powerful Marksinna. An outgoing girly-girl, she is a perfect compliment to Wendy's often un-ladylike behaviors and helps her look and act the part of the respectable Queen she must be, and even grows herself, into the government-involved Marksinna. Though Willa is on thin ice herself, secretly in a relationship with Matt- a crime punishable by banishing. Rhys and Rhiannon are manks- they are the human babies taken from the host families and raised in Trylle society, usually treated no better than servants. Duncan, Wendy's new tracker since Finn became reassigned, proves to be an invaluable asset to Wendy throughout the book, as he is a dedicated friend, fiercely loyal and desperate to prove himself as a tracker (even if he's not cut out for combat...).
Other returning characters are Elora, Wendy's mother and Queen of the Trylle; Aurora, Tove's mother and an icy, bitter woman; the perverted Chancellor, whose thoughts of Wendy make Tove very angry; Garrett, Finn's father and Elora's long-time lover, and Oren, Wendy's father and King of the Vittra, among many others.
In the second book, we met Loki, a Vittra Markis who sneaks into the palace courtyard and begs Wendy to run away with him. In Ascend, we find Loki battered and bruised at the door to the palace, and Wendy takes charge, depending on her closest friends to keep the secret of his presence while he heals and she can determine the reason for coming to Forening, of all places. Loki's charming, witty, sarcastic personality draw Wendy right in- instead of just harboring an enemy, she falls in love with him also.
Three days after her eighteenth birthday, Wendy and Tove are married, followed by a reception in which Wendy is to dance with everyone who asks. Tove has exceptionally strong powers and is a powerful backer to all of Wendy's ideas, but the marriage creates a certain awkwardness between the couple. When Elora dies, finally drained of energy from years of using her powers, Wendy has three days before she must be crowned Queen, ending the truce with the Vittra, leaving the kingdom open for an attack they can't possibly win. The Trylle look on in horror as the Vittra decimate other Changling cities, just waiting for the chance to take over Forening. Seeing no better way to save her people, Wendy convinces Loki to take her to Oren, her father and King of the Vittra. Wendy knows Oren wants her for his own, as her powers are the strongest seen in a very long time, or he will ensure she can side with no one. Swearing love and loyalty to her, Loki takes her to the very man who nearly killed him for not bringing Wendy to him in the second book. Doing things her own way, as she often prefers, Wendy works out a deal with the King: no more attacks on any Changlings until she is crowned Queen, and in return, she will unite Forening with the Vittra and rule under him. Oren greedily takes the deal, unaware that this Princess will not let her kingdom go that easily.
While preparing to attack the Vittra unaware to gain the upper hand, Tove reveals to Wendy that he's gay, and they both admit they are not in love with each other. Tove's argument on the matter is especially moving: Trylle have very short lives due to their powers draining their life energy away, and with as strong at Tove's powers are, he pointed out that he would not have a long life and he'd like the chance to fall in love. They agree to an annullment as soon as the war with the Vittra ends, the first real decision made based on one's own happiness versus the good of the kingdom, though Tove would remain at her side, helping her make the changes she, and most of her generation, want to see in a kingdom that never shys from the old customs.
I was really unsatisfied at how much plot and content Hocking crammed into this third book. I strongly believe more should have been included in some scenes, such as the final war scene, the wedding reception, and her meeting with Oren. I also felt the last several chapters, the epitome of the entire book, were rushed and lacking in detail and minor content. The epilogue, the update on everyone a year later, was the greatest disappointment for me. It would have felt more natural to see the events that transpired over that year's time in a fourth book, where the characters and relationships would get the recognition they should have instead of a short summary of everyone's lives. It just felt too unnatural to me for Wendy Everly to be a mother, and it broke my heart to see Finn with a family of his own, just a page-turn away from the post-battle wrap-up. While I respect the author's decisions concerning the characters' relationships, I will always be a Wendy-Finn shipper (for you hardcore book bloggers who know what that means), even more so after he has become forbidden to her. But even Finn gets to find love in the end, and Wendy and Loki get to rule as King and Queen and unite the kingdoms under a positive rule aimed at changing their world to accomodate and enliven their dying culture to fit better with thoughts and ideals of the human world around them.
I can say, without a doubt, that I am sad this series is over. My only regret is that the epilogue ruins any hopes I previously had that Hocking would decide to write another. It's like a giant stamp over the last page that reads: AND THEY ALL LIVED HAPPILY EVER AFTER.