You know how everyone says to never judge a book by its cover? Well, I did”¦ and boy, was it worth it! I was intrigued by the title Phoenix Rising, or rather the subtitle — A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel — but was snared by the art on the front. Going in with an expectation of sexy, steampunk fantasy I was happily rewarded with an excellent introduction to the characters. Agents Braun and Books came to life immediately. Even better, they continued to grow slowly throughout the book keeping me interested in not just the plotline, but in the character development as well. As with any steampunk novel this book is full of mechanized gadgets, well described and alluring. I might perhaps be doing this book an injustice by labeling it so, as it does have all the earmarks of an excellent fantasy-mystery. That said, it was a well-written, highly entertaining romp.
Phoenix Rising is the first book by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris in a new series entitled A Ministry Of Peculiar Occurrences. Obviously steampunk in the ever popular Victorian age of England, it revolves around two Ministry agents: Field Agent Eliza Braun and Archives Agent Wellington Books. Having just recently lost her partner Braun meets Books in the action-packed first chapter of the novel. You would be hard pressed to find two people more different anywhere. Braun is an action oriented “colonial” from New Zealand and Braun is a well-bred Brit who gives off the feeling of aristocracy in his every mannerism. Her aggressiveness and his calm intellect make for an appealing duo. Constant arguing with an undertone of respect keeps the dialogue fresh and exciting.
We quickly discover that the Phoenix Society, likened unto the Hellfire Club at times, is an elite club that is thought to perhaps predate the Freemasons. It is also presumed to have nefarious plans of eventual world domination, though currently their work is all regarding Great Britain. While we don’t get a lot of the history of the Society in this book, I can sense that more depth will follow in subsequent writings. We see that several subplots are linked directly to the main one, thereby increasing the tension at times. There is a concentration on plot and mysteries that serve this book well, while you get regular doses of fantasy style mechanics, the overall steampunk theme is very subtle. I expect more ideas and machines will be introduced as more books are released.
As you can guess from the title, this is the beginning of their interaction with this group, though their contact with the Society was ongoing all the way through the story. Bullets fly and explosions are caused from one chapter to the next. Deception is the norm as no one is completely who they appear to be. I’m also very interested about the secondary characters, specifically Doctor Sound, the Director of the Ministry. Pay close attention to him, there is another story there”¦ I can feel it.
I would highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys steampunk novels. It’s a worthy read for basic fantasy and mystery fans, too. The plot is interesting, but the fate of this novel was sealed by the excellent characters featured, possessing both depth and mystery, you will find yourself drawn to them very quickly. From the bulletproof corsets to the airships to the mechanized Combobula bar, you will not be disappointed in the gadgets. I felt this was almost a James Bond meets Sherlock Holmes combination. And for the record, my favorite item is the plures ornamentum. Curious what that is, are you? Well then, perhaps you should read the book.