Book Review || Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Phoenix Extravagant
Yoon Ha Lee
20th October 2020

Right, just before I get into the review proper, let me just say how excited and grateful I am to have received a review copy of this book - this was literally my most anticipated release for 2020, and from an author that has quickly become one of my favourites of all time. I just. So grateful.

Okay, and moving on.

This is Yoon Ha Lee’s first fantasy novel, following on from the amazing science fiction series Machineries of Empire (which I devoured). Following a nonbinary artist (as someone who identifies as nonbinary myself, this was freaking epic) who slowly gets embroiled in a political mystery involving the source of select pigments and a mecha-dragon. I mean, sign me the heck up.

Gyen Jebi, our main character, is someone that I liked immediately upon first reading, but took a little while to really understand. Their life is kind of in a state of frustrating limbo at the start of the book, and you can tell they just want to move forward, but can’t. Their sister is a little bit controlling, but they’re grateful to them for somewhere to live, and they just want to paint and get paid for it. I honestly wondered at the start just how Yoon Ha Lee was going to take Jebi from this beginning to what seemed like a wild ride, if the synopsis was anything to go by.

But, oh. He took them there. Things become intriguing and mysterious and honestly dangerous pretty quickly. The ride just slowly gets more intense, more suspenseful and stressful, and more interesting, until you find yourself kind of turning pages without really being aware of your surroundings (I love it when this happens). And it’s all done with Lee’s sparse, beautiful writing, which I adore. I also fell in love with the mecha-dragon - they become one of my favourite characters, in fact.

I will admit that I didn’t enjoy this book as much as I have previous books. I think that might be partly because of when I read it, and having to take a break in the middle of reading. However, I did find two main things that just stopped me from loving this. The first was that some of the characters felt a little one-dimensional, not quite whole - this feeds into my second caveat: there needed to be more of this book. And I don’t just say that as a fan of Lee’s writing (because I will always want more, I think), but because I just felt like certain aspects of the story and characters needed more exploring, more opportunity for understanding. I think just a little more of that might have been perfect for me.

9/10 bright pink mecha-dragons.

I received a review copy of this book from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and feelings are my own.

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