I enjoyed Rampant. There were problems, but I thought it handled its subject reasonably well and had some great action. So I gave the second book a go.
In hindsight, I probably should have left this one alone.
Ascendant picks up where Rampant left off, with a bunch of young women in the cloisters learning how to hunt and kill unicorns in a world where they're becoming more and more prevalent and dangerous. Phil, who lost her hunter eligibility after being raped last book is running the place now, but she's hoping to find a way to live with unicorns, not just hunt them into extinction. That's become more difficult as one of the hunters begins to lose her own powers for some reason.
In the midst of all of this, our heroine Astrid is feeling discontent. Her dreams of becoming a doctor are receding, her boyfriend moves to New York and life in the Cloisters is getting weird. So when she's offered a chance to maybe find and bring to justice a character from the previous book who'd done something unforgivable, she takes it. But instead of the person she's looking for, she finds the pharma company from the previous book, with a whole new apparent outlook on life.
And here, for me at least, the drag chutes come out. Vast quantities of this book are centered around Astrid and will-she-or-won't-she regarding a few different things - sleeping with her ex boyfriend, killing unicorns, completely leaving the Cloisters. It was a little too eco-soap-opera for me and not enough action.
A problem with having a big pharma company in your book, especially one that was headed by the main bad guy from book one, is that you sort of expect them to be evil. So while on one hand I can sort of sympathize with Astrid's happiness at the way they treat her, it also feels like it should be clear that they are Up To No Good. When a baby unicorn is born and her overriding thought is "they must never know" it's clear even she realizes they're bad. The moral dilemma about working with them thus tends to ring hollow.
Also... look, I said I thought it was probably a good thing that Rampant talked so frankly about girls' virginity and about the weird way that people treat it as thought it's something mystical as a way to control them. They talked about it too much for my taste, but it was nice to see a book say "listen, deciding not to have sex for any reason you want is perfectly fine, and so is deciding to have sex, if you're choosing it freely." The idea that virginity is only important because people decided to make it important, not because there's anything inherently important about it.
But then we get this book and guess what? It turns out virginity *is* magic. The first time a unicorn hunter has sex, you can use that power to make a panacea that can cure all wounds. How do they bottle the escaping virginity magic? I have no idea. I don't want to know. Maybe they outlined it, but by that point I was bored, squicked out and skimming.
Oh yeah, and we have the death of a unicorn hunter, done in such a way that I found it almost impossible to have an emotional reaction to it. It's not helped by the fact that I barely could keep her separate in my head from the other hunters. Bleh.
This was just a disappointing read. There's still such a wealth of possibility in the premise, but the execution keeps going in directions I don't enjoy or even particularly care about.