Evil is most assuredly afoot—and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian.
These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences—the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling—will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest . . . and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.
For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun—he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices—must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . . or see England fall to the Phoenix! (from Amazon)
Finding a good steampunk book is a mite trickier than you would think. Myself, I prefer an emphasis on the people and the world they live on than on the tech– though I still think the tech is a big part of it. If you’ve got a book set in a steampunk world, then not only does the steampunk tech have to interesting, it has to be integral. Otherwise what’s the point? The really good steampunk books, the ones I enjoy the most, have a good balance between the people and their tech, and I think Phoenix Rising has that balance.
While I was reading it I kept comparing bits of it to other things. For instance, the two main characters remind me of characters in Buffy (only slightly different). Books is like Wesley (but more capable of things beyond research) and Braun is like a mix of Buffy and Faith (but less homicidal/unstable/etc.). Throw in the mysterious organization they work for (BPRD/The Library?), a debauched secret society they’re fighting against (every movie/book/song about secret societies ever, I guess) and a bit of mystery/action/romance (Parasol Protectorate series) and you might just be tiring of all these comparisons.
Well, yes. A lot of Phoenix Rising feels like it was cobbled together from parts of other things, but luckily the glue that binds them all together is some really good writing and some wonderful characters. Without those two things there’s no way this book would have been as enjoyable as it is, and I probably would have given up on it in disgust.
My favorite part of the book– besides the mystery– is the relationship between Books and Braun. As new partners, they’re unsure of how exactly they’ll work together. Braun especially has trouble, as she’s used to action and not the relatively quiet life of the archive. Books, meanwhile, has more issues than you’d think (Wesley-ish issues, even), which contributes to his difficulty in both working with a person like Braun and basically doing anything outside of the archives. Luckily they both love a good mystery and are truly dedicated to their job, so by the end of the book they’ve got a solid partnership in place.
The only thing that felt off was Braun’s decidedly non-Victorian demeanor– I mean, beyond the guns/fighting/bulletproof corset. I suppose it’s kind of hard to be a proper Victorian lady when you’re too busy kicking ass and taking names (although somehow Alexia manages it), but even in her private/social life she’s not really Victorian. Even the female assassin is more Victorian than Braun, and she’s Italian.
It’s kind of excused by virtue of Braun being from New Zealand, not England. Apparently people in the colonies just run wild compared to “civilized” places, and that’s okay? I don’t know; though there were times where she acted more like a “proper” Victorian lady, she still felt a bit like a modern woman shoved into a Victorian setting. Her strangeness was made more acute by the fact that no other female agent was ever mentioned (that I can remember, anyway), although apparently there are others out there. Maybe if I had seen some other women (besides the assassin) act the same way Braun does, I’d be a bit less confused.
I guess with the whole “steampunk” thing you’re going to have anachronisms anyway, and to be honest while I was reading Phoenix Rising I was mostly thinking about how it was funny that everyone was so offended/annoyed/enraged by Braun and her deeds of derring-do. I think it helped that the book was obviously not taking itself seriously; the chapter titles were full of jokes, and there were a lot of puns and witty things in the main text as well. It was clear that the authors had a lot of fun writing the book. Is it any wonder that I had fun reading it, then?
Phoenix Rising is a witty, exciting, action-packed book with a good deal of mystery, a slight hint of angst, and some wonderful characters. I really liked it!
Read: July 4-14, 2011
Can I just say– okay, I know why the cover is the way it is. Steampunk IRL is mostly about the clothes, and so you have to have obviously steampunk clothing on the cover. BUT. It’s completely different from what the characters wear in the book! And, honestly, it makes the book look way sillier than it actually is (for the questionable fashion choices if nothing else). I kind of hate it.