Phoenix Ascendant Review

Note: My copy of Phoenix Ascendant was supplied by Edelweiss. The novel releases March 1st, 2016

“Chad, you can’t realistically review the third book of a trilogy while having skipped the first. It isn’t right.”

“Shut up, you aren’t my real dad!”


Okay, so maybe that hypothetical version of myself that has a conscious isn’t totally wrong. It is a bit unfair. However, Phoenix Ascendant by Ryk Spoor is one of those fantasy novels where it isn’t that important to know what’s going on. I mean, go read the back matter and tell me you don’t know how this thing will end.

This is high fantasy people. It isn’t rocket science.

Phoenix Ascendant is the kind of novel that thinks the following syllable mashups are okay to have as names for people, places, and titles (yes I kept a list of all the bad fantasy names in this book (shut up)):

Light of Kaizatenzei
Great Road to Zarathanton
Sha Kuratenzei
Shal Alatenzei
Torline Valanhavi, The Eternal King of Atlantaea
Lurlonimbagas the Lightslayer

However, for the sake of fairness, I won’t complain about being confused at all. Except at the end which was nonsensical and probably a Deus Ex Machina. But the rest? Nope, totally my fault I didn’t know what was happening!

Kyri Vantage is on some kind of quest to avenge her brother and resurrect the religion of Myriomer. She’s found some friends, killed a dragon at the end of book two, and now needs to face the Big Bad who has been plotting all sorts of nasty things. Because this is high fantasy, the morality is strictly black-and-white, so he’s predictably evil to the core.

This, strangely enough, makes him way more interesting than anyone else in the book. Normally evil for the sake of evil is boring, but I bought into it this go around. I like our Big Bad! I’m not sure he’s a good villain, but he’s shrouded in the Rule of Cool, and I’m fine with that. Plus, he’s at least really smart.

For Kyri, the problem is her brother isn’t actually dead. They find him stuck in a giant glass container like a test-tube baby, and he stumbles out with most of his memories and personality intact. Predictably, the drama for the first half of the novel surrounds Rion and if he’s really an evil spy or not. It turns out or Big Bad is really good at manipulating memories and controlling people.

To the novel’s credit, I could never figure out if Rion was actually a spy or a sad kind of zombie. Of course, I never really cared one way or another, but at least the mystery remained a mystery until it wasn’t a mystery anymore.

Honestly, the first half of the novel is pretty barren as far as things go. Little happens as our characters head from one place to another, and while they talk big and plan for some huge problems, little comes of it. Most of this serves as a recap to the first two novels, I think, but the rest is just…movement. No one ever meanders, but it all feels like large swaths of this book could have been trimmed or removed altogether.

There were times when I thought we’d get some payoff in the form of battles, but then magic saved the day and prevented such fights. It’s disappointing. These kinds of fantasy books need to be chalk full of huge battles; it’s what they have in place of substance.

A bit after the halfway mark, Phoenix Ascendant delivers what I thought was an awesome twist which it then does nothing with. Other than the Rion mystery, it had been fairly predictable and straightforward to this point, so it’s a shame its once chance of really shaking things up was quickly dealt with and then forgotten as if it never really happened.

What saves it all are the characters. Kind of. Kryi herself is probably a Mary Sue in some fashion, and Tobimar certainly runs the line of being generic and too powerful, but everyone else is quite fun. There’s a little frog named Popluck who’s a wizard and terrible cynic, and I kind of fell in love with him. He’s a charming little bugger, and his pragmatism and magic are a nice combination.

There are also a group of people from Earth who are all pretty great. It’s a shame the novel never focused on them, because their personalities and quest were more worthy of following in my eyes than Kyri’s.

When the novel isn’t focusing on our cast of heroes, it jumps to a bunch of demons who are playing at politics. While normally a novel of this sort wouldn’t be able to handle politics, the demons are pretty content with backstabbing and murder, and that’s always fun, even when predictable. I liked them well enough.

While a complete mess here and there, Phoenix Ascendant does manage a wonderful payoff at the end. I don’t think I’ve seen a final battle this long in…ever! It spans at least six chapters, maybe more, and all of it is delivered quite well. There are a few moments of characters breaking out into conversation like a bad Shonen anime, but on the whole, it’s all well paced and fairly tense. I wanted the Big Bad to win the whole time, but eh, what can you do?

The climax to the fight itself is utter rubbish though. I won’t go into it, but it makes zero sense based on what I was given in terms of Godly lore and general magic itself. Still, it is somewhat satisfying, Deus Ex or no.

So we’ve established that Phoenix Ascendant is a fairly generic—but enjoyable—plot read. Cool! It’s a shame there are problems with the writing. Ryk Spoor has a nasty love of semicolons, and as we all know, they have little place in fiction. They’re pretentious, and when you find five per page, distracting as hell.

It would help if they were all used properly, but that sadly isn’t the case.

I so wanted to count them! I didn’t though, because counting to high numbers is dreary work.

The other problem is the dialogue itself. It’s overwritten and kind of annoying, and every character seems to want to talk and talk and talk and talk. There’s little subtlety here, with everyone adding in little, busy clauses before launching into short speeches. It’s tiresome and annoying, especially when character actions say more than words.

Other than Popluck, I wanted pretty much everyone to talk half as much as they did.

Phoenix Ascendant is one of those novels that is not good, but it has some charm and fun to it that makes it a fair companion if you’ve got nothing better to do. I had some fun, and that’s important. I’ll also admit that I probably would have enjoyed even more had I read the two that came before it.

However, having finished book three, I have no inclination to go read the first two.