There's no website or social media network that is so beneficial to book-lovers than Goodreads. It's the place to talk books, get reviews, chat with authors and readers, and win contests. And if you're an author, it's a wonderful way to connect to your audience and fanbase. It's not uncommon to receive free eBooks or ARCs in exchange for fair reviews, which brings me to my very first Goodreads Roundup post, where I review books from Goodreads. Enjoy! And feel free to friend me on Goodreads and say hello.
Disclosure: This was a free book from the author given in exchange for a review, although I did purchase the book later to ensure I had the most recent version on hand.
Genre: Fantasy, YA, Teen and New Adult
Summary: Nanyamka, nicknamed Kay, is a top NYU journalism student who is awarded an internship to South Africa. On top of that excitement, she's having bizarre dreams and visions, balancing time with friends and her college love life, and uncovering the secrets of her birth, which will lead her to her true destiny.
Review: This book definitely surprised me, which is always a pleasant experience. The fantasy genre, for all of its unlimited possibilities, tends to sink into the stereotypical 'Ye Olde Medieval European Epic' narrative, which usually entails a group of knights or wizened old white men or dwarfs or elves who undergo a quest involving a Chosen One who will meet with a prophesy head-on. Now, The Phoenix Rising may have a prophesy and dealings with destiny, but that's about as fantasy-tropey as it gets. Huzzah!
Besides breathing some fresh air and modernity into the fantasy genre, the next great thing that works for the novel is the lead character herself, Kay (Nanyamka). I felt her voice was very authentic and I really liked her personality. It's so important for the main character to work--especially in first-person POV--because the reader is going to essentially hear every inner thought that belongs to the narrating character. There have been instances where I couldn't get into a book because of characterization, but I feel like if Kay was a real person, I would definitely want to be friends with her. The other characters are equally enjoyable to read, but I do like Kay especially. On a somewhat-related note, Arielle is really good at naming her characters, something I personally envy as a fellow fantasy writer.
Overall strengths of the novel are characterization (especially with voice) and setting (excellent descriptions of New York and Ipharadisi, for example, bring the scenes to life). There's some great imagery in the book also, and as a word-lover I enjoyed any moment I could learn about languages through Kay, who represented the reader when it came to what she didn't know and what she was trying to learn. And I loved reading about mythic and folkloric concepts like the Ubumnyama, which is the Xhosa word for darkness. Of course, in fantasy, darkness is never just darkness. :)
The book does have its weaknesses, too. I don't know if these are issues the public reading populace would catch or care about, but as an MFA grad and an English professor, my eyes are trained to look for stylistic choices and mechanical issues with writing. I know Arielle created a second edition of The Phoenix Rising with a new cover and reading discussion questions. On top of that, the book went through another line of edits...so I feel awful for saying this, but there are still issues with grammar and sentence mechanics. There's a lot of passive voice and unnecessary words which tend to make for long, clunky sentences or redundant information at times. I caught some issues with missing commas and hyphens; however, I personally did not feel that the errors were too disruptive to the text.
In terms of style, at times the novel did feel weighed down with exposition. Although Part One of The Phoenix Rising has some gems in it, overall it felt like much of it could be summed up or visited later. The novel's true rhythm picks up at Part Two, and in my opinion, it feels like that's where the book truly begins. The pacing is a little tricky at times, too. Arielle does help the reader out with time jumps by using bold italics to denote flashback scenes, but sometimes it was still a little difficult to orient myself with the past versus the present.
Despite these issues, I enjoyed The Phoenix Rising. I would recommend it to fantasy readers, especially those who are tired of the status-quo. I would also recommend it for the likable protagonist and characterizations. Although the characters are college-aged (usually 18-21 years old) and therefore considered to be part of the New Adult genre, I think this book is stylistically better-suited for the traditional YA reading audience, especially when it comes to the relationships in the novel, be they romantic, familial, or friendship. As long as readers have the patience to journey past Part One (and based on the majority of reviews, this doesn't seem to be a problem), the pay-off is worth it.
Final Score: 3.5 out of 5 stars = LIKED IT!