Author: K Arsenault Rivera
Title: The Phoenix Empress
Plot: Since she was a child, the divine empress O Shizuka has believed she was an untouchable god. When her uncle, ruler of the Hokkaran Empire, sends her on a suicide mission as a leader of the Imperial Army, the horrors of war cause her to question everything she knows.
Thousands of miles away, the exiled and cursed warrior Barsalyya Shefali undergoes trials the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to O Shizuka.
As the distance between disgraced empress and blighted warrior narrows, a familiar demonic force grows closer to the heart of the empire. Will the two fallen warriors be able to protect their home?
I received The Phoenix Empress from Netgalley in exchange for an honest review. All thoughts and opinions are my own.
I made a mistake with The Phoenix Empress: I didn’t realise it was the second in a series until I’d started it. By then, I was far enough in that I didn’t want to backtrack.
It didn’t take long to pick up the back-story though, or understand what drove these two strong, powerful women. The world-building took a little longer but I blame that on the names: nearly everything starts with s. By the time I got it straight in my head who was who without having to read each name twice, the story was progressing.
What tripped me up, however, was connecting to the characters. I could see their strengths and weaknesses, but I struggled to connect to them. If I had gone on this journey with them, got to know them as they grew up, then perhaps this wouldn’t have been an issue.
But I think the narration style didn’t help. The narration switched between third and first person, past and present. At first, there were glimpses of the past as one character filled the other in on everything that had happened while they were apart. These flash-back scenes took up a considerable amount of the story.
If someone wants to reach out to you, they’ll find a way; if they don’t, they’ll find excuses.
It helped get to know that character; how she developed and tackled the problems she was facing. But because she was telling the story from the future, it undermined the tension. You knew she got through it but were also aware of the consequences of her actions before the other characters had the truth revealed. As you never feared for the character, there was never an increase in tension.
When the narration returned to the present day, I wanted things to move on. I guess it might have been a more emotional read if you had connected with the characters and been with them the entire time. But despite one character only having a few weeks left to live, there never felt any real urgency.
Shizuka – the empress – seems self-absorbed and, in a way, childish throughout the book, despite what she has been through. Shefali feels distant – it’s hard to connect to what she is feeling. Despite the distance between them, the endearing names the pair use for each other feels overdone: like it’s a forceful reminder that the pair love each other as half of the narration focuses on just one.
The secondary characters had the potential to be more: they had fire, determination and a cool and collective nature to deal with a headstrong empress. But they were never given the chance to truly develop, which was a shame.
Maybe this is my fault for not reading the first book. But I struggled to connect to the characters and felt the plot had no climax, just a steady pace throughout. I never felt absorbed in the book. Despite the cliff-hanger, I’m not sure I was engaged enough to follow the story on, which is disappointing.
Has anyone else had a different experience having followed the series from the beginning?