Sunday 20 August 2023

Review: The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma

In a kingdom where flames hold magic and the desert hides secrets, an ancient prophecy comes for an assassin, a princess, and a king. But none are ready to face destiny—and the choices they make could burn the world.

 “If we carry the burdens of our fathers, we’ll never know what it means to be free.”

For Elena Aadya Ravence, fire is yearning. She longs to feel worthy of her Phoenix god, of her ancestors who transformed the barren dunes of Sayon into a thriving kingdom. But though she knows the ways and wiles of the desert better than she knows her own skin, the secrets of the Eternal Flame elude her. And without them, she’ll never be accepted as queen.

For Leo Malhari Ravence, fire is control. He is not ready to give up his crown—there’s still too much work to be done to ensure his legacy remains untarnished, his family protected. But power comes with a price, and he’ll wage war with the heavens themselves to keep from paying it.

For Yassen Knight, fire is redemption. He dreams of shedding his past as one of Sayon’s most deadly assassins, of laying to rest the ghosts of those he has lost. If joining the court of flame and serving the royal Ravence family—the very people he once swore to eliminate—will earn him that, he’ll do it no matter what they ask of him.

But the Phoenix watches over all and the fire has a will of its own. It will come for all three, will come for Sayon itself….and they must either find a way to withstand the blaze or burn to ash.

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📌 Disclaimer: I received an e-arc for review from the publisher  
📌 Publication date: 31/08/2023

Originally self-published as The Boy with Fire, The Phoenix King is an Indian inspired fantasy with sci-fi elements. 

I loved Elena, she is a 25 year old princess/soon to be queen who is determined to bring change to her kingdom. Reading about a brown main character in a fantasy book, and coming across familiar words such as chaas, adrak wali chai, and burfi made my South Asian heart so happy. We also get the point of view of Elena's father, Leo, and an assassin called Yassen. I have to admit that I was disappointed with the name choices of Leo and Elena. I wish the author had gone for more authentic Indian names rather than these Western ones. It just didn't make sense to me seeing as other side characters had Indian names. That aside, I thought Leo was an interesting and morally grey character. I honestly don't think I've ever been so torn about what to think of a character. Some of the things he did were terrible, but at the same time he truly wanted what was best for his daughter and his kingdom. I mean, it was hard not to feel for him. 

Although this is adult fantasy it reads like YA, and I don't mean that in an offensive way (I love YA fantasy), I just mean in terms of the plot and tropes. I will say that there was a lot of deaths, but what I appreciated was that they weren't just included for the sake of showing how brutal the fantasy world was. The world building in The Phoenix King was richly crafted and it had some sci-fi elements that I wasn't expecting. 

I like when books include the POV of the love interest as it helps build the romance, in my opinion. Unfortunately, that wasn't the case here. I never got the sense that Yassen had romantic feelings towards the Elena and vise versa. So, while I enjoyed some of their scenes together (especially the dance/dupatta scene, very Bollywood-esque) the romance was lacking. I think Verma could have leaned into the forbidden romance trope and included more pining and angst. Such a shame because I was excited about the romance, and I liked them individually. 

Overall, I thoroughly enjoyed The Phoenix King and am looking forward to the sequel. 


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