Title: Phoenix Rising
SubTitle: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel
Author: Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris
Pub Date: 05/01/2011
Category: ADULT: Steampunk Fantasy.
Phoenix Rising is a great read, a tightly written, fascinating novel with colourful characters, plenty of action, wonderful inventions and an intiguing puzzle to solve.
These are dark days indeed in Victoria‘s England. Londoners are vanishing, then reappearing, washing up as corpses on the banks of the Thames, drained of blood and bone. Yet the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences– the Crown’s clandestine organization whose bailiwick is the strange and unsettling — will not allow its agents to investigate. Fearless and exceedingly lovely Eliza D. Braun, however, with her bulletproof corset and a disturbing fondness for dynamite, refuses to let the matter rest. . .and she’s prepared to drag her timorous new partner, Wellington Books, along with her into the perilous fray.
For a malevolent brotherhood is operating in the deepening London shadows, intent upon the enslavement of all Britons. And Brooks and Braun — he with his encyclopedic brain and she with her remarkable devices — must get to the twisted roots of a most nefarious plot . . .or see England fall to the Phoenix!
In this Steampunk version of Victorian England, one plucky secret agent finds herself removed from fieldwork on account of her over zealous use of explosives. She is demoted to an assistant in the archives where she must work with Wellington Books, apparently as opposite in character to her as you could get. The easy going, fiery colonial (Eliza is a kiwi and proudly so) constantly annoys and is challenged by Welly, who is precise, diligent, by the clock and by the rule book. I love both these characters.
Welly is happy in his job as Librar…. whoops, archivist, but Eliza would rather be out shooting criminals on behalf of Queen and country. When she comes across the records of a fascinating and gruesome unsolved case that her ex-field partner was working on before he went crazy and ended up in Bedlam, Welly picks up her interest in the case. After a new piece of evidence comes to hand, their curiosity takes over and they’re on the case without the approval of their superior.
The characters are well drawn, likeable and deepen as the story progresses. Welly is very upper-crust and he finds Eliza’s colonial ways lax and sometimes downright crass. He is surprised to discover that she has taste and can behave as any well bred lady should when she needs to. She doesn’t have a scientific mind like Welly or share his fascination with gadgets. Her love is her guns and stiletto knives. Yet when the two get together, they make an excellent team.
The trust between them and respect for each other grows and by the end a little of Welly has rubbed off on Eliza and visa versa.
This novel reminds us how easily nefarious characters can hide behind the patriotic English upper class façade and shows us that the characteristics they despise in other classes, rather than making them inferior, make them particularly good in the certain areas such as in the skills of sleuthing.
This is probably the most clearly drawn Steampunk world I have come across so far. The machines are described so well that they are quite believable. Some might find Eliza a bit of a stretch in believability for a woman of the time, but it is an alternate reality, and she is a Kiwi who learned to fight from the Maoris which makes her character quite plausible.
The ending came to a satisfying conclusion with just enough left over to give you an idea of where the story might be going next. I’ll definitely be keeping up with this series. I give it 5 stars and recommend it for all Steampunk lovers over 18. There’s a hint of lesbian debauchery and a taste of sexually orientated torture though, thankfully for this reader, neither are described in detail. Both seemed necessary to paint the picture of just how malevolent the secret society is.