I seem to have been on a real fantasy/steampunk kick lately. Phoenix Rising is by far the most steampunky thing I’ve read lately. The story centers on two agents of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books. Eliza is enamored of dynamite, guns, and action, while her new partner is a by-the-book Archivist. Their last names are not coincidental. The two are forced to work together, and quickly discover a mystery in the Archives’ unsolved case files that has connections to Eliza’s past and to a string of current violent and mysterious deaths.
I’m all for strong, independent female characters in action stories, but the character of Eliza annoys me. She is selfish to the point of being mean-spirited a lot of the time. Although the story tries to excuse this with backstory and hints of emotion, I still don’t buy it. Books I find more sympathetic and interesting as a character. He too has backstory that gradually unfolds to explain certain personality attributes, including a fascinating inner dialogue about his father, but he at least demonstrates empathy and attempts to work with Eliza.
The second female character is one of the villains, Sophia. She reminds me strongly of Milady de Winter from The Three Musketeers. She is an assassin in the employ of the organization responsible for most of the trouble the heroes try to figure out and-or prevent. Her connection to Books is one I actually liked, especially his reaction when he realized it. There’s some good opportunity for future character development there. After the majority of the bad guys are defeated, Sophia remains, but is pulled into the service of the still mostly hidden mastermind behind the mastermind. Naturally, I’m sure this hint means that Sophia will return to perpetrate further nastiness. The other interesting bit about this final view of the bad guys (and girl) is the hint that the now-deceased villain’s butler may not be who he seems either.
True to the genre, there is a fair bit of action and use of gadgetry. I do wish some of the gadgetry were explained a bit better or at least more description. This is especially true towards the beginning with Books and his computing device, and near end when the villain explains to Books some of the details of his masterpiece creation.
I am excited that the adventures continue in several further volumes. Hopefully the good things stay that way and Eliza grows up a little bit without losing the impulsivity and bravery that makes her entertaining.