Phoenix by Elizabeth Richards
(Description nicked from B&N.com.)
“Weeks after his crucifixion and rebirth as Phoenix, Ash Fisher believes his troubles are far behind him. He and Natalie are engaged and life seems good. But his happiness is short-lived when he receives a threatening visit from Purian Rose, who gives Ash an ultimatum: vote in favor of Rose’s Law permanently relegating Darklings to the wrong side of the wall or Natalie will be killed.
The decision seems obvious to Ash; he must save Natalie. But when Ash learns about The Tenth, a new and deadly concentration camp where the Darklings would be sent, the choice doesn’t seem so simple. Unable to ignore his conscience, Ash votes against Rose’s Law, signing Natalie’s death warrant and putting a troubled nation back into the throes of bloody battle.”
This is one of those books on which I’m really torn. There were some things about it that were quite good, and some things that made me grind my teeth in frustration. Believe me, I’m not one of those reviewers that takes great glee in bashing a book, so it’s hard for me to write a review pointing out where I think an author made a serious fumble. On the other hand, I certainly don’t want to lie about how I felt about the book.
With that in mind, let me start with the positive: I think Richards excels at worldbuilding. She’s put a lot of thought into how the various parts of the country interrelate, how the government works, and how people view and treat beings like Darklings and Lupines. This novel allows the author to incorporate different locations than just Black City and to explore the wider world that exists beyond our own borders.
She’s also good at creating non-human cultures. While she doesn’t use a whole lot of page space doing this, she lays a solid foundation and gives just enough detail to give readers an idea of how other races live. In fact, I would have liked to see more time spent among the other communities.
That would probably have interfered with the exploration of the political situation sparked by Purian Rose and his cronies. It’s horrifying to see how cruel his followers can be, and that they get away with it. Even more horrifying is how plausible such scenarios are. I appreciate that Richards managed to convey a sense of evil from Purian and his cohorts without letting them descend into caricature.
Unfortunately, by the end of the book, I was so annoyed with Natalie and Ash that it overshadowed a lot of the novel’s good points. Natalie and Ash are supposed to be crazy in love with each other, and yet they spend much of the story not talking to each other and getting into the worst kinds of misunderstandings as a result. Overheard conversations are given the most destructive spin, casual glances are misinterpreted, and critical information is withheld. This happens constantly through the bulk of the novel. I got to the point of wanting to reach into the pages and shake some sense into the both of them so that they’d stop being so stupid.
And of course the dreaded love triangle happens. Someone who is attracted to Natalie and makes no secret of this fact shows up, and although Natalie does not reciprocate, she persists in hanging around this guy. Eventually things come to a crisis, Ash decides to get even, and things turn into a love… quadrangle? square?… for a few weird and stilted scenes. All of this angst and drama nearly eclipses the plot focusing on the increased sanctions on non-humans and the burgeoning rebellion in some of the human territories.
I think what this all boils down to is that Richards is trying too hard to push a romance plot with dramatic overtones instead of keeping the spotlight on the novel’s stated plot. There are enough interesting happenings to keep readers’ interest without all the weeping and wailing of Natalie and Ash’s relationship. Phoenix is not as good as Black City, but there’s enough of a story hiding in the romantic woes to make me curious about what comes next.