#CBR4 Maneuver #22 – Phoenix Rising
Profile: Steampunk, Mystery
Summary: From goodreads.com, “Evil is most assuredly afoot—and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian.
These are dark days indeed in Victoria’s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences—the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling—will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest . . . and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.
For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Books and Braun—he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices—must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . . or see England fall to the Phoenix!”
I’m having a bit of a bad run. REAMDE was obnoxiously long and mostly not good so I went after a bit of steampunk book candy in Phoenix Rising, which turned out to be mostly not good. I wrote in my review of The Wise Man’s Fear that a good book can capture your attention and power you through exhaustion. Conversely, a bad book will put you right to sleep. I feel asleep six times trying to finish Phoenix Rising, and two of those times were in the middle of the day. It could be that I’ve read enough steampunk that the setting is starting to get boring for me, but I’m more inclined to put the blame on bad writing and terrible puns.
Phoenix Rising is an introduction to the characters Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. And, yes, the punning has already started. The two protagonists are secret agents with a British organization dedicated to the strange goings-on of a steampunk Victorian England. Eliza has a problem with explosives: she is overly fond of them. When her latest mission ends in the detonation of an Antarctic complex, she is reassigned to the Ministry’s Archives, where Books works. Rather than just sitting on her hands, Eliza goes digging in the Ministry’s cold cases and gets involved in a newly reformed secret society that might be responsible for a series of grisly murders.
I can’t even get through the summary without groaning. Plot notwithstanding, the book is riddled with obvious puns and terrible naming conventions. Books and Braun? Why not just name her ‘Brawn’ and… QUIT WINKING AT ME! There is nothing funny about a joke that would be out of place in a second grade book. The names are like the ‘Doctor Who?’ jokes that you only laugh at because it is expected.
Really, there isn’t anything in Phoenix Rising that isn’t expected. The jokes are predictable, the plot is banal and the writing is of that pseudo-Victorian style that titillates the people who dress up in frilly corsets and monocles and drives the rest of us insane. The core of the book is so devoid of anything interesting that I’m having trouble creating criticisms that go beyond “It’s BAD.” It might be because the villains’ motives are never really established. It might be because the assassin is named Sophia del Morte. It might be because the book keeps trying to set up a sequel. But I suspect that the real problem is that the authors have decided to write to the lowest common denominator of their fan base. This is a book for dumb people.
Or at least people who don’t read a lot. In the same way that romance novels never strive for the heights of literary quality, Ballantine and Morris have written a steampunk novel that attempts nothing more than adequacy. Their target reader has grown up reading paranormal romance and teen fantasy, and probably resents the more complex books they were forced to read for school. There’s no need for interesting or diverting content, because it would just reduce the target audience’s enjoyment.
And let’s leave it at that. Not every book needs to be good and if I go any further this review will turn into a rant about stupid readers and the harm that social media is doing to our collective literacy. Phoenix Rising is a terrible book. If you don’t read a lot, you might enjoy it, but anyone who’s reading this review has probably far exceeded the point where they could be entertained by this kind of drivel.