Book Review: Phoenix Rising by Philippa (Pip) Ballantine and Tee Morris

Title: Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel
Author: Philippa (Pip) Ballantine and Tee Morris
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Genre: Steampunk (TRUE steampunk)

Regular readers of this blog will know that I am a huge fan of Mr. Morris and Ms. Ballantine. I’ve listened to all of their (independently written) podcast novels and purchased all of their published works.

Several years ago, Mr. Morris asked on Twitter whether anyone would be interested in a podcast novel cowritten by him and Ms. Ballantine available only through purchase. Being the fan I am, I of course acknowledged I would. So I waited for the the donation jar to appear. And waited. And then… I waited a bit more. Still nothing.

Eventually, Ms. Ballantine and Mr. Morris began tweeting tantalizing snippets of ideas they were playing with and this made me all the more interested. Then came the day I was asked if I would like to “beta read” a copy of this story, at the time entitled Books and Braun. I was delighted.

I devoured the early edition of the story that evolved into Phoenix Rising with great relish.

When the book hit the shelves, I was eager to have it in my hands, so I hurriedly went to my nearest retailer (sorry Amazon, immediate gratification needed here) and purchased two copies. (My wife loves fantasy as well, and I don’t always share nicely). I was anxious to see if my favorite scenes had made it to final press and to see what had changed. Boy, were there changes. All good.

While as a child, I had been a huge fan of Jules Verne, I had never been a huge fan of steampunk before. To be truthful, it was because all of my previous encounters with steampunk had been mashups with other genres. Here at last was a true steampunk novel. Something Verne or Wells might have imagined. Well, if those luminaries were a little less stuffy that is.

You see, Phoenix Rising, is a madcap romp through Victorian England that is a perfect blend of laughs and gasps. Wellington and Eliza have been compared to The Avengers Emma Peal and John Steed. I can definitely see the resemblance. The intrepid duo spar with each other and with the villains in a perfect blend of humour and action and the books finale comes much too quickly.

The characters, beyond a shadow of a doubt, make this story need to be the first in a series. The story in itself is quite delightful and self contained. But you can simply feel the characters pushing at the bindings waiting to jump into the next novel in the set.

Wellington Books is an Archivist (please, don’t call him a librarian) for the clandestine Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. If Moulder had lived and worked in Victorian England, he would have been an agent of the Ministry. Books finds himself in a scrape at the beginning of the novel. A scrape best handled with the liberal administration of black powder and explosives. These items are willingly and ably applied by Eliza Braun. Eliza is as bombastic as Wellington is demure. Perfect foils and imminent partners.

Pheonix Rising tells the story of their teaming (although unwillingly) and their triumphant conclusion to a threat that would have ended in failure if either had attempted on their own.

For just a moment, lets return to steampunk. The reason this story made steampunk so enjoyable, was that it isn’t about steampunk. It’s about two wonderful characters that inhabit a steampunk world. The story is not about the devices, but the devices are inherent to the story. Authors, if you want to write steampunk well, here’s your primer.

Mr. Morris and Ms. Ballantine have cowritten a story here that is unlike anything I’ve ever heard or read by either of them. It is seamless in a way that few cowritten stories I’ve ever read are able to achieve. The story simply flows and you’re never aware that two cooks have been playing in the sauce.

Simply stated, Phoenix Rising really should be on your “must read” list. It is a bargain at the relatively inexpensive cover price and can also be purchased through your favorite ebook store.

If you haven’t read this amazingly fun book yet, go get a copy. You’ll thank me for it, and Mr. Morris and Ms. Ballantine will have gained another fan.

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