I just finished re-reading a book so that I could read the next in the series. I think I enjoyed it more this time, in part because I picked up more of the inside references.
Now, I have to be up front here. I have met both the authors of this book and I’ve been supporting their work for several years and yes, the links to the books and Kindle versions of the short stories mentioned in this review are my Amazon affiliate links. That being said, a review of the book can’t be impartial. Then again, is any review ever really impartial?
The book in question is Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. Phoenix Rising is a steampunk novel featuring Wellington Thornhill Books – a proper British Archivist for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences and Eliza Braun – a field agent for the Ministry from New Zealand who is particularly fond of dynamite and black powder. It is the tale of what happens when two very different people are forced to work together.
There were three things in particular that I enjoyed about this book and that make it worth re-reading and recommending to friends and to my local indie book store.
- Steampunk is not just an aesthetic. When goggles or a gadget is introduced, it’s put to use. Not only that, the gadget and its use are well described – the hiss of steam and sound of gears and cogs moving is always noted, but never gets in the way of the story.
- There are dark moments and themes, but the story is not distopian or depressing. It’s fun. This is a Victorian Britain where there is crime and dirt and unfairness, but it is also a Britain with hope and kindness. I’ve heard the book described as “the Avengers (1960’s TV- not comic books) meets the X-Files meets Steampunk.” I think that’s pretty accurate. I might add The Wild Wild West TV series into the mix although the novel (other than the opening chapter) never makes it out of Britain.
- There is depth to the characters and story. There are many passing references to cases and to the characters’ pasts that make me want to know more. And, over at The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, there is more to learn. Pip and Tee (and their publisher HarperVoyager)have allowed other authors to write in their world, expanding on agents and stories mentioned only briefly in the book. The stories are available in e-book versions from several sources for 99 cents for individual stories to 2.99 for collections of stories. Here’s a link to the Kindle Versions.
There are other things that I enjoyed as well. I got a kick out of the inside jokes and references, but then again, I’ve met or know of several of the people involved in them. I also enjoyed the appearance of the Ministry Seven. An unexpected yet wonderful use of the unnoticed and “unimportant” in Victorian London.
Phoenix Rising is a book that can be read for simple enjoyment and fun – and the banter between the main characters will bring a smile to your face. It can be re-read with equal enjoyment even when more attention is paid to details and themes. I have no doubt that I’ll be re-reading it yet again in the future and the story will always fit the mood I’m in and what I’m looking for.
I just hope that by the time I read Phoenix Rising again, I’ll have had a chance to get it, and the follow-up (The Janus Affair) signed by Pip and Tee!