Friday, May 13, 2016

Book Review: Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballentine and Tee Morris

The Archives of England's Ministry of Peculiar Occurances has just become a place of punishment. Eliza Braun has been sent to work there in an effort to calm her explosion-happy field practices. Wellington Books, the man in charge of the Archives, needs a bit of an ego deflation. Eliza's introduction to Books's over-organized world ends up uncovering a forgotten case with hints about what happened to Eliza's last partner. He was uncovering some devious plot against the country and the world, but everything came to a dead end. Now Eliza has the opportunity to find out just what happened to her old partner. Now if she can just get Wellington Books to help her, she might have a chance.

That's my summary. Here's the one I pulled from
These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the river Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences- the Crown’s clandestine organisation whose baliwick 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.

If you're not familiar with steampunk, this series would be a great introduction. Think England, a decade or three before Mary Poppins' time, where everything is run on steam and technology strives for the same things we reach for today. Steam-powered robots, airships, early computers, you name it. Culture is genteel (sort of), everything is proper, and adventures can lead anywhere. It's a great setting, honestly.

It's kind of hard for me to talk about the style here, as there are two authors to the book. I haven't read much of either Morris or Ballentine's individual works (which I'm working on rectifying), so I can't attribute the style of this book to either of them.
I can say that the book was straightforward and immersive in its setting. The characters were distinct in themselves, very well-developed. This book was full of great surprises and wonderful plot twists. It was a joy to read.

My Thoughts
I've been intrigued with steampunk for a time, particularly the look of the style. This book was exactly what I was looking for in immersion into a steampunk story. Readers seeking an introduction into steampunk stories will find this a great place to start, and steampunk geeks can really sink their teeth into the Ministry Ballentine and Morris have created. There's a lot of depth in their setting and characters, so there will be tons of stories to tell. Knowing this is just book one of a series makes for a lot of promise with the series.
I can't harp enough on how wonderful the character development was on these books. It's clear from the onset that the authors have strong senses of not only who Books and Braun are, but who all their characters are deep into their cores. It would be so easy to let the setting of this book overshadow everything, but that didn't happen at all. The characters were the real stars, as they should be, and the plot and setting served their actions wonderfully. They fit into their world in an absolutely fantastic way, even while they have issues with it, just like any normal person.
The only problem I had was that it could get very easy to distract myself from the book. I don't know if the writing or behavior of things seemed too stuffy and formal sometimes, or what exactly the reason was, but there were times when I sort of glazed over and realized I had to stop reading. It wasn't a book I could personally sit and read in long sessions. But it did keep drawing me back for the next sprint of consumption, so I was driven to finish. I cannot wait to get into the next book of the series.

Would I Recommend This Book? Indubitably. If you're not here for the steampunk element itself, at least come for the characters. Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are a delightful pair... in some ways. In other ways, they're a complete mess that's hilarious to see interact. The two of them are an outstanding draw, just in themselves. I give Phoenix Rising a proper 4 of 5 stars.

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