"Phoenix Extravagent" review
Title: Phoenix Extravagant
Author: Yoon Ha Lee
Subgenre: Science fantasy, Political
2021 Bingo squares: Set in Asia, Trans or nonbinary character
Recommend: Yes! Very different from “typical” fantasy (whatever that means), I enjoyed it a lot. Except for the ending.
Phoenix Extravagant is a novel about nonbinary artist Gyen Jebi, a relatively talented artist who’s not so good at being a sibling or adult (but they’re trying! really hard!). After getting into a fight with their sister Bongsunga, they find themselves offered a government job that seems too good to be true, but, not being so good at being an adult, they don’t really have any idea how to handle the situation and end up completely over their head.
In addition to having an extremely relatable and not-at-all-standard-for-a-fantasy-novel main character, Phoenix Extravagant features an incredibly cool magic system involving the destruction of art to create automata that are controlled through what’s basically computer programming and a pacifist war dragon. Jebi must decide out what they’re willing to risk in order to stand up to government corruption. And who’s on their side in all of this?
Things I liked:
- The characters! Usually I do want to read about main characters who are great at what they do, but every now and then it’s nice to read about someone who’s kinda clueless and way over their head, which Jebi most certainly is, for pretty much the entire novel.
- Jebi’s relationships with other characters all feel very real and relatable.
- The magic system is super awesome. One of the coolest ever.
- Really, the worldbuilding overall is very cool.
Things I didn’t like:
- There’s an event at the end of the novel that just feels…totally random? And it kind of ruined everything for me. It’s not even really related to the plot, it just…happens. I will explain after the cover image, obviously spoilers.
What I didn’t like
What I’m talking about is when they decide to fly to the moon. I just…couldn’t deal with this. I know there was mention earlier on in the novel about the Razanei wanting to colonize the moon, but nothing is ever stated about HOW to get to the moon until they’re like “hey let’s just go there!” in the very last chapter; previously it was just talk of “oh we want to go to the moon.” No one ever says “oh yes, we definitely made Arazi able to fly to the moon” or “oh yes, Arazi can definitely do the orbital calculations necessary to fly to the moon” or “oh yes, Arazi is definitely capable of creating a magical shield capable of keeping humans from burning up on exit or re-entry from or to Earth’s atmosphere.”
And yeah, I get that this is a fantasy novel, not a science-fiction novel, but it’s kind of a science-fiction novel, with all of the automata programming there is and everything, and flying to the moon is so preposterously difficult a proposition that you can’t JUST DO THAT OUT OF NOWHERE at the end of the novel without having set up for it somehow. Especially with the rest of the magic system having been so well-defined and well-delineated with how it worked.
Anyway, so that took it down from probably a 5/5 star rating to 4/5. I really did not like this ending. But extremely good rest of the book.