This review is also available on my blog, Read Till Dawn.
This actually has an even cooler premise than I thought it would going in. I guess I didn’t read the description very carefully, because I saw “pirates” and thought “historical fiction.” You know, like Blackbeard and shanghaied pirates and the Jolly Roger and all that stuff? Well, it turns out that Phoenix Rising is definitely nothing like that. It has the Jolly Roger, sure, but that’s where any similarities to historical pirate stories ends. This book actually tells a story set in a bleak future where fossil fuel supplies have dried up, the sun was entirely blocked by atmospheric gases for several decades, and the oceans have become cluttered full of garbage from ancient garbage dumps that broke apart during land shifts. Toby lives on a pirate ship full of pirates wanted for various (non-violent) crimes, and they move through the water by burning wood and using whatever scraps of natural gas they can find in the junk that fills the ocean.
It’s actually an amazing premise, isn’t it? I love the way it blends historical pirate culture, modern environmental crises, and predictions of how things could devolve once nations start fighting over resources.
All that to say . . . I didn’t like the book quite as much as I’d hoped I would. It’s got gobs of semi-minor characters everywhere, and I had a terrible time trying to keep them all straight. Several of those characters die throughout the book, and more random people we don’t even know die as well. Even the two main characters, both of whom are about fourteen, kill multiple people throughout the book. I can be okay with death, when it’s realistic and contributes to a story, but I just didn’t like the way people skated past all the deaths. Toby never struggles with what he’s done, not really, and I just needed to see him do that in order to believe in him as a character.
As for Ayla, she’s not in the book as much as you’d think from the description. She shows up about a third of the way through, actually. I think she’s supposed to be a tough but lovable character, one of those “enemies with a heart of gold.” Unfortunately, I never really bought that conception of her character. Ayla seems like a troubled soul, and I do wish her greater happiness in the future, but I don’t really see her as an innocent in this story.
I assume there will be a sequel, since the story has a pretty open ending. If one does come out in the future, despite not falling completely in love with Phoenix Rising, I would definitely still be interested in reading it and discovering what happens next. I’d also like to see the conflicting politics of the land countries explained in more detail, because we only get a quick sketch of them in Phoenix Rising but it sounds like they could be really fascinating. Until then, though, I’m content to pass my copy of Phoenix Rising along to my local book swap.
Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.