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Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee #BookReview

Dragons. Art. Revolution.

Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.

One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.

But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.

What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…

Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee  book cover

Title: Phoenix Extravagant | Author: Yoon Ha Lee | Publisher: Solaris | Pub. Date: 20 October 2020 | Pages: 416 | ISBN: 9781781087947 | Genre: Science Fiction | Language: English | Starred Review: Yes | Source: Publisher

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Phoenix Extravagant Review

I really wanted to like ‘Phoenix Extravagant’ and for the first quarter or so I did, but then I found my interest in it was gradually declining and by the end I was clicking the page turn button on my Kindle before I’d even finished reading the page. Books like this frustrate me, because I never know if it’s me or the book that’s the problem. I need up finishing them feeling a bit anxious and enormously unsatisfied, and that was certainly the case here.

So here’s the good stuff. The world building in this book is great. Yoon Ha Lee has created a vibrant, Asian-inspired fantasy world populated with automata as well as humans, and rich with intrigue. It features a land that’s been invaded by another country, its people oppressed and itching to be free,

The protagonist, Jebi, one of the oppressed. An artist who designs and paints scripts that allow the automata to run. Jebi is also non-binary, a detail which I loved and which adds something to the story without overwhelming it. As much as I liked the idea and Jebi as a character, I did find I struggled with pronouns. The author refers to the as “they” throughout, something I got used to in time but which which I did find confusing at times. That’s something that’s definitely my problem, rather than the book’s.

The plot is initially fascinating. Jebi is forced to redesign the scripts painted on a dragon automaton. A device intended as a weapon of war but which has proven to be anything but. Jebi is watched over by a female duellist and the relationship between the two characters makes up a lot of the book.

The problem with it all is that, once the basic set up was in place, I found it just didn’t grab me at all. There are some great ideas here, but the book lacked oomph and I quickly found that I was confused about the details of past events that were key to the story. The result felt like a disappointing missed opportunity. So much of what is here is great, it just doesn’t come together into a satisfying whole.

You can find this book at many retailers via clicking on the appropriate link on Goodreads (Buying direct from retailers is a good way to support indie authors); however, in the spirit of supporting literacy programs, we would like to point out that you may be able to purchase this book through BetterWorldBooks.

Published inBy RatingScience Fiction Book ReviewsStarred Reviews

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