The Phoenix King is an epic adventure from its very first page, and if you’re looking for a novel with a rich, intricately-crafted world, a deep-rooted mythology, and a wealth of complex characters who are constantly torn between what’s morally right and what’s best for themselves and their country, then the first book in Aparna Verma’s new Ravence trilogy is definitely the one for you.
Elena Adaya is the heir to throne of the Ravani Kingdom – but she’s also the only Ravence who cannot command the Eternal Fire and wield her family’s legendary magic. As her coronation approaches, Elena is determined to do whatever it takes to prove that she is a worthy successor to her father, and ready to lead her kingdom into a new age of peace and prosperity. What Elena doesn’t expect, however, is the arrival of Yassen Knight, a notorious assassin who now claims fealty and loyalty to the Ravani throne.
Yassen has arrived in Ravani on the heels of what was supposed to be his final kill, but after the job went horribly wrong, Yassen finds himself recruited into helping an old friend one last time in exchange for being pardoned for all of his crimes and starting a new life for himself. When Yassen is installed as a member of Elena’s personal guard,however, Elena is convinced he’s hiding something and the two begin a dangerous dance of intrigue and betrayal as they spend more and more time together. With their country on the brink of war and the threat of rebellion high, there are even more dangerous factors at play than either Elena or Yassen know about – and the choices that they both make could burn down the world.
She was the Burning Queen. The heir of a land of blood and prophecy. May they all bow to her fury.”
This novel portrays a complex science fantasy world that reads like the Daevabad trilogy met the technology and “moves and counter-moves” philosophy of the Hunger Games, and Verma isn’t afraid to throw her readers in at the deep end. After the exciting – and suitably intriguing – action-packed prologue, the narrative gets off to a slow start as roles are defined, sides are taken, and the complicated histories of the clashing groups and characters that make up this world are all introduced and moved into play.
It’s a narrative that builds up in layers slowly, and it can take a little moment to get your head around. It wasn’t until we hit Chapter 5 that I was able to settle more comfortably into this world, and it took another three or four more after that to become fully immersed in this novel as the true extent of this narrative began to reveal itself. It’s undoubtedly a bit of a meandering start, but what The Phoenix King lacks in action-packed narratives at this early stage it certainly makes up for with a wealth of political and courtly intrigue instead.
Through these characters, their histories and their relationships with one another, Verma clearly establishes this new fantasy kingdom, its socio-political role and the shifting alliances between its rules and neighbouring countries. In Elena, we see a fierce and stubborn young ruler and watch as she learns that doing what’s best for her country requires pain, sacrifice and difficult decisions, while with her father Leo we see a monarch on the other side of his reign whose decisions have turned darker and deadlier, but who is no less conflicted by his actions. Yassen, meanwhile, and his journey from starving orphan to deadly assassin for one of the kingdom’s most notorious rebel groups presents a picture of those in the kingdom who’ve fallen on harder times, as well as his ongoing search for home, for purpose and for freedom.
With so many characters, social classes, motives and hidden agendas playing out at any one time, The Phoenix King quickly proves itself to be a compelling and fascinating slow burn fantasy, and all before the plot shifts, the stakes are raised and the action truly begins. Admittedly, The Phoenix King does feel overly long at times, and the extent to which you’re willing to continue this narrative will largely come down to whether you prefer your fantasy epics to be driven by political machinations or action-packed fight scenes. With three POVs to contend with for the majority of the book, there are a lot of politics and motivations to keep track of too, and it’s no surprise that the novel begins to feel a little more direct and a little more put together when one of those perspectives is given less prominence as the plot continues.
Ultimately, The Phoenix King is a deeply captivating adventure novel and a very promising start to a new fantasy series. It’s a novel that’s packed with magic, prophecy, betrayal and plotting, complete with complex characters, morally grey actions and a very welcome slow burn enemies-to-lovers side plot too. There’s certainly a lot of build-up, but this is a novel that explodes into such a whirlwind of action and romance that it all pays off in some very satisfying ways. If the final chapters of this novel provide just a hint of the kinds of twists, turns and adventures to come in the rest of the series, then the Ravence Trilogy has every potential to become something very special.
The Phoenix King was published on 31 August by Orbit