My rating: 4 of 5 stars
If one were to compile a list of Must Read, Essential Steampunk novels, then Pheonix Rising, should, by all means, be included. In this humble reviewer’s opinion Ms. Ballantine and Mr. Morris have written one of the best examples of the genre to date. The central heroic duo, fittingly named Book and Braun, are engaging and likeable. The relationship between them is fresh and vibrant. The blurb for the nook edition I read compares them, quite rightly, to Emma Peel and John Steed. One aspect of Ballantine and Morris’ storytelling I enjoyed most was the gradual revelation of their characters’ depth. In between scenes of riveting action we readers are treated to tantalizing glimpses at our heroes’ pasts and insights into their current circumstances and secret desires. The “’Punk” aspect is provided by the unconventional Miss Braun whose boisterous, brash and freewheeling ways are sharply contrasted by the conservative, thoughtful demeanor of her new partner Mr. Books, Chief Archivist for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Despite the initial friction one might expect from such a pairing, the two eventually become a remarkably effective team.
The delightful central characters are only the beginning. Ballantine and Morris treat us to a compelling mystery filled with international intrigue, ruthless villains and, of course, the Dastardly Plan which threatens all of Her Majesty’s Empire. This book hits all the right notes that a steampunk adventure novel should. A great deal, although by no means all, of the action takes place within late 19th Century Victorian London. Books and Braun have access to fantastical, improbable devices. We are treated to a look at the ultimate depravity of the supposedly civilized. There are lovable scamps, frightening steam -powered contraptions, thrilling and tense confrontations, and explosions. Who could ask for anything more. My only detraction from this otherwise excellent book is a handful of editing missteps in the edition I read.
If you ever want to introduce someone to the steampunk genre of fiction, this book should be on their reading list. Ir is a briskly paced story with a satisfying mix of humor, dramatic tension and high stakes action. Perhaps the best thing this reviewer can say about this book is that I greatly look forward to reading the next installment in this series.