Book Review: The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera

The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera

Author: K Arsenault Rivera

Title: The Phoenix Empress

Publisher: Macmillan-Tor/Forge

Date: 2018

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?

Book review: The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera

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?

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A Rambling Reviewer

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14 thoughts on “Book Review: The Phoenix Empress by K. Arsenault Rivera

  1. Sorry to hear you didn’t fully get on with this one. I think the name thing would REALLY bother me because I already struggle with having too many names in a book. The back and forward from first, third, past, present sounds a bit annoying too. I don’t mind tense switches when done well though x

    Liked by 1 person

  2. I often think that the mark of a really great series is the ability to pick it up at any point and figure out the world and what is going on without also being overly repetitive for the readers who have been along since the beginning. This is something that I thought The Hunger Games Trilogy handled really well – although you missed some of the character development, the world was built in such a way that you could cope without the world building from the other books and it encouraged a desire to seek them out.

    I’m sorry that this book was more difficult to get a handle on :-/

    Liked by 1 person

  3. OH WOW! That must have been such a surprise to realize that it was the second in the series, I would have thought somewhere in the inside before starting it’d say second book in XYZ series. But at least it wasn’t too hard to pick up on the backstory of book one! That’s interesting that most names start with the letter s, it must have been so confusing trying to pin point who was who.

    I’m not sure I’ve ever read a book with third POV, first person AND past and present – that sounds so so confusing to even know what part of the story to be focusing on!

    So the main character was telling the story from the future? That’s kind of like a giveaway at how it all ends, I feel like the best thing about books is not knowing if XYZ will survive, it’s almost as though they’ve spoiled it by having her speak of it from the future.

    One thing I really dislike is when the secondary characters aren’t given time to develop for the reader when there’s so much potential for them. Never read the series before, but the whole point of view and past tense and present tense would probably lead me to DNF.

    Sahara
    https://www.saharasdreams.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • I found the book on Netgalley and there was nothing in that description that indicated it was the second one. It was only when I looked it up on Goodreads afterwards and that was when I realised. Yeah, I’m all up for different narrations, but not at the cost of it not making any sense/undermining the plot.

      Like

    • Thank you so much! I’d love to know what you think if you do read it, it’s always interesting getting other people’s perspectives on the same book, especially what didn’t work for me might make it a great read for you.

      Like

  4. Its always such a shame when you don’t really get to know enough about certain characters it can feel really lackluster. Its a shame because from reading the synopsis I thought that would be a really interesting read, but the lack of information on the characters would ruin it for me too!
    Kayleigh Zara 🥂✨ http://www.kayleighzaraa.com

    Liked by 1 person

    • Me too, it ruined the entire thing. I’m not sure i would have been a fan if I had started from the beginning, but it would have been nice knowing what I was going into! Glad you caught them in time.

      Liked by 1 person

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