Poor Jebi. They tried so hard to get along as an artist, one of a conquered people in a recently conquered land, without being political. They very quickly find themselves in over their head in situations where they have no choice but to be political.
Phoenix Extravagant is a stand alone silkpunk novel set in fantasy version of Korea under Japanese rule. Magic is real and automata – machines powered by magic patrol the streets for the Razanei. Jebi isn’t a chosen one, or the best or bravest, they are trying to get along in a difficult world. The choices that they make put them on the path to being a pawn, and then deciding whether or not to stay a pawn.
Jebi is geu-ae, non-binary. They live with their older sister, Bongsunga, whose wife was a soldier killed during the Razanei invasion six years earlier. As an artist not affiliated with the conqueror’s government, they have been dependent on their sister for food and shelter and want to be able to contribute financially. When the book opens, Jebi has acquired a Razanei name and is taking the Ministry of Art’s exam hoping to get a job. The Razanei like order and cleanliness and they pay on time.
Eventually they are coerced into a job with the Ministry of Armor where they are the artist in charge of Arazi – an experimental war machine in the shape of a dragon. Jebi is placed under the supervision of Vei, a Razanei woman who is the Prime Duelist (something like a Samurai) for the ministry. As awful as an experimental war machine in the shape of a dragon sounds, it is so much worse.
Phoenix Extravagant was a gripping read. Since our point of view comes from Jebi, there’s a constant feeling that more is happening than we understand. It’s like a puzzle that the reader has to put together from pieces that aren’t obvious and many are not what they appear. The world building is great and once the story gets going I couldn’t put it down. As much as I’d like to think I would be one of the heroic characters who rushes into danger on principle, I know I’d be more like Jebi, just wanting to survive without being hassled. Arazi is wonderful and will be a reader favorite.
Phoenix Extravagant is out October 20. I received this as an arc from NetGalley in exchange for a review.