The Sun swings behind the world. Night engulfs him. The dull metal craft plunges through space, its portholes pale beacons containing the silhouette of a man, and the only other lights are the stars themselves.
Can one act define a man? Or his country? Ascent is the spellbinding thriller by critically acclaimed British novelist Jed Mercurio. Inspired by the secrets still surrounding the USSR's race against the United States to put a man on the moon, Mercurio asks the chilling question, What if the Americans weren't first?
Ascent takes us on the perilous journey of its singular hero, the brave and determined Yefgenii Yeremin. Yefgenii rises from the privation of a Stalingrad orphanage in 1946 to the heights of the cosmonaut corps. During the Korean War he joins an elite Soviet squadron conducting a secret air war against the famous aces of the U.S. Air Force. Dubbed Ivan the Terrible, he amasses more jet kills than any fighter pilot in history, but his feats must remain unknown to his countrymen, his victories un-celebrated. After the war, his achievements are scrubbed from the records and he is exiled to a base above the Arctic Circle, where he flies patrols on the edge of American airspace. There he learns that Yuri Gagarin has become the first man in space, the greatest of all heroes.
And then, as America's Apollo astronauts prepare to reach the Moon, he is given a new name and sent into cosmonaut training. Throughout his career, he has craved a place in history, in the climactic clash between the two great powers. At last his country calls him. And somewhere between the Earth and the Moon, Ivan the Terrible finds his mission to create history, to exceed his own life.
With one of the most fascinating heroes in recent fiction, Ascent builds a terrifying scenario within the shadowy history of the space race. Haunting, tragic, boldly inventive, Ascent is a tour de force of imagination.
Jed Mercurio trained as a doctor and, while at medical school, received extensive flying training with the Royal Air Force. As a resident in internal medicine, he wrote a groundbreaking medical drama for the BBC, Cardiac Arrest. His first novel, Bodies, was chosen by The Guardian as one of the top five debuts of 2002. He adapted the novel into an award-winning drama series for the BBC and is currently developing a version for American television. He lives outside London.
"Gripping...Speaks volumes about heroism and the human condition in a taut, page-turning narrative." -- Simon Hills, The Times (U.K.)
"Haunting, powerful, and mysterious...a stunning debut from a writer who bears close attention ." -- Booklist
"Mercurio is a master of precision, armed, like Yeremin, with a razor-sharp eye. This is fighting-fit, muscular prose, which carries no dead weight. In short, it's that rarest of things -- a highbrow book that's vertiginously thrilling." -- Tancred Newbury, The Observer (U.K.)
"Ascent is storytelling of high caliber, fully imagined, finely crafted.... Mercurio's understated empathy, his starkly elegant prose and his Werner Herzog-like instinct for juxtaposition lift Ascent far above a Boy's Own adventure." -- Michael Faber, The Guardian (U.K.)