“There will always be another adventure waiting.”
Ryk E. Spoor
I won Phoenix Rising last summer in a Book Smugglers giveaway and have only just got around to reading it, which should give you some idea of how my TBR pile works. (I’m getting there, though!) It’s not the kind of book I’d usually pick up in a bookshop: for a start, look at that cover. Also, high fantasy tends to put me off, because high fantasy writers tend to think they can do exactly what Tolkien did with a commensurate amount of success. (They can’t.)
The point is, the deck was already quite stacked against Phoenix Rising when I started reading it. I was very sure I would hate it as much as I hated Raymond E. Feist’s Magician (i.e., a lot). But…well, my opinion changed a little as I read it.
Phoenix Rising is a story of a world at war. Zarathan, world of magic, populated by every kind of fantasy race from the Artan elves to intelligent Toads, is attacked in every single population centre by mysterious dark forces led, it seems, from behind, by a dark god. Against this background of magical turmoil, Kyri Vantage of Evanwyl takes up the armour of a Justiciar, guardian of Justice and Vengeance; Prince Tobimar Silverun goes on a quest to discover his family’s lost homeland; and Poplock Duckweed of Pondsparkle generally gets in the bad guys’ way. Their various journeys intersect and interact and, in the best tradition of fantasy quests, become something greater, something that may help to defeat the evil forces spreading through Zarathan.
As I said, I was quite sure I would hate Phoenix Rising before I even opened it, and this was an opinion reinforced by the first few pages, which featured many of my least favourite fantasy novel features: the phonetic dialect that’s always horrifically hard to read, the stilted, infodumpy dialogue, the cringeworthy characterisation, the mass of confusing names and conflicting scenes, the feeling of lost-ness (“what the heck is going on here?!”).
But about the halfway mark it all starts to coalesce, to settle down and to get a lot more…well, fun. I’m not saying it’s great literature; it isn’t. But the world is a properly fantastical one, all magical races, mystical runes, haunted jungles. There’s actually something one of the characters says that, in my view, perfectly describes all magical jungles, ever:
“But your people…lived in the jungle. So did the Artan, right?”
“Special people, special places, but it’s never safe or civilized. People like us – adventurers – go in, but it’s always a mystery.”
And, sure, there’s nothing really new in this world – the whole thing reminded me a little of those choose-your-own-adventure fantasy books I used to get out of the public library (I lost spectacularly every time) – but it’s quite satisfying to live in for a while. Even the battle scenes, so often the bane of any fantasy novel (*cough*Helm’s Deep*cough*) were well managed and exciting. Also, I was impressed by Kyri’s role, which was, unusually for high fantasy, completely un-misogynistic: there was a point at which she might have been rescued by Tobimar, in a damsel-in-distress type scenario, but Spoor managed to avoid this particular trap with panache.
Finally – on a quite geeky note – I’m pretty sure some old friends rock up in disguise here. Firstly, there’s a mysterious figure called the Wanderer who’s described by one of the characters as a “trickster of a thousand faces”. It occurs to me that this is eerily similar to Christopher Paolini’s enigmatic description of the Doctor (yes, that Doctor) in Brisingr:
The trickster, the riddler, he of the many faces who finds life in death…
And there’s a Sherlock fan among the cast of world-hopping Earthlings (yep, there’s some of them here too):
…he’s on the side of the angels, I think.
Not, of course, that these things had any bearing on how much I enjoyed Phoenix Rising. (They totally did.)