2019’s The Ascent to Godhood is the fourth entry in JY Yang’s Tensorate series.
Lady Han was the Protector’s greatest enemy. Once she was the Protector’s firmest ally Now that the Protector Hekate is finally dead after a half-century of tyranny, Lady Han tells the story of her transformation.
It begins in a small village.
Third of seven children in a poverty-stricken peasant family, the future Lady Han was sold to Madame Wong. The money might keep her family alive a little longer.
Madame Wong manages a stable of courtesans. The future Lady Han is educated, trained, and sent out to entertain well-born, rich clients. She earns a lot of money for Madame Wong, who keeps it all.
The future Lady Han attempts to provide for her old age by stealing from her patrons. She is too greedy: Assistant Minister Chong notices his losses. Once he has proof, the future Lady Han faces a dreadful fate.
Which she avoids, thanks to court intrigue. Chong supports the Protector’s heir, Kamine. Kamine’s younger brother, Hemana, is supported by his sister Hekate. Hekate learns of the courtesan’s predicament and enlists her in a plot to bring down Chong. She takes the courtesan under her wing and names her Lady Han.
Which is just fine with Lady Han, who has been crushing on Hekate since she first met her. She eagerly takes up a role as Hekate’s secret agent. She steals again and turns the documents she purloined from Chong over to Hekate. Thus begins Hekate and Lady Han’s long, productive partnership.
More court intrigue. Hekate kills her brother and becomes Protector ; she sets out to reshape the Protectorate. Lady Han becomes Hekate’s most trusted, most loyal covert agent.
Until one revelation transforms Lady Han from Hekate’s most ardent supporter to her bitterest enemy.
Hemana and Hekate are ambitious sociopaths. They fail the way movie villains always fail: they cannot resist boasting of their devious machinations. Hemana boasts and Hekate kills him. Hekate boasts and alienates Lady Han. She also alienates her children (as we learn in the earlier books in the series). They might have learned from my motto: More Words, Deeper Hole.
Yet another book about a vicious autocracy. At least Yang doesn’t sympathize with the autocrats, as too much of classic SFF did. So, tolerable.
And Lady Han is an enjoyable sort of person with whom to tour the underbelly of her society. Her life as a courtesan/spy/assassin turned revolutionary might not have been the one she would have chosen but, as she says
[quote]No, I don’t regret my life at all. So, I fucked up from all directions, but at least it was an exciting fuckup, you know? [/quote]
And that’s enough for at least one reader to recommend this book.
1: The Protectorate is aware that sanctioning ascension to the top spot by murdering predecessors would have undesirable consequences, like reigns measured in weeks rather than decades. Hekate has to prove she killed her brother for acceptable reasons (like his having commissioned the infanticide of Hekate’s child) rather than merely self-serving ones (like wanting to be Protector). Happily, being able to prove there was an acceptable reason also allows her to indulge the self-serving ones.