Thursday, February 7, 2013

Review: Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine & Tee Morris

Title: Phoenix Rising
Authors: Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Series: Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences #1
Pages: 402
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Date Published: April 26, 2011
Format: Mass Market Paperback
Genre: Sci-Fi/ Steampunk
Source: Provided by Author for LGS 2.0!

Evil is most assuredly afoot—and Britain’s fate rests in the hands of an alluring renegade . . . and a librarian. 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 Books 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!

My Review:
What an exemplary piece of Steampunk literature! Hats off, pints all around, Huzzah and all that good stuff for this WONDERFUL book! I didn't even get past the first chapter before I was like..."wow...this one is going to be great" and guess what? I was right!  I should have known from the fantastic cover that this book was going to be full of all the things I love about the Steampunk genre: saucy heroines, dashing men-folk, crafty gadgets, and lots and LOTS of gritty crime! Feel free to judge this book by it's epic cover my friends, because it is SO worth it!

The opening scene is absolutely great and sets the tone and pace of the entire book. We meet both main characters in chapter one and their personalities are evident for the world to see right off the bat. Poor Wellington Books is in a predicament. He's been seduced by a lovely Italian which has landed him trussed up by the ankles as it were, for the dreadful House of Usher, sworn enemies of the Queen and Crown. As a Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences head Archivist, Books knows entirely too much for his own good and is about to talk by the House of Usher's pet torturer. It's a good thing our saucy Maori (Native of New Zealand) warrioress, Eliza Braun shows up in the nick of time with lots and LOTS of dynamite. As you can guess, the resulting rescue is chock full of explosions, tense moments, and eventually a daring rescue by airship for the duo. And that my dear steampunk just chapter one.

As the book progresses we get to learn more about the Ministry, a kind of paranormal research/intelligence agency that serves the Queen and Country by defying all things strange and mystical. Miss Braun's role as field agent has led her to the lifestyle involving entirely too many explosions for a woman of her birth, despite being from the colonies. Her recklessness and fiery temper sets her apart, and not always in a good way. While Eliza has been busy blowing things up, shooting people, and stealing ancient artifacts, dear Wellington has been cast as the brains behind the Archives. Though lacking the admiration and attention he deserves, Books can hold his own in a fight, is an extremely inventive tinkerer, and quite a well-dressed and fashionable gentleman. He acts as guardian and keeper for all of the exotic and deadly findings that the Ministry has procured since opening it's doors.

Due to her overuse of explosives, and neglect for proper etiquette and caution in the field, Eliza finds herself demoted to Book's assistant to both of the agent's shock and horror. Yet Eliza's temperament and inability to keep her nose out of other people's business leads the two into the forgotten depths of the Archives, where all of the Ministry's cold cases go to die. Eliza discovers a case involving a series of gruesome and terrifying murders, and it just so happens to be the case that her former partner was working on when he mysteriously went stark-raving mad. Using her feminine abilities to charm Wellington into investigating proves the easiest task Miss Braun has to face. The case leads them on a chase from one end of London to the other as they deal with explosive-wielding assassins, the madness of Bedlam Insane Asylum, a disastrous opera of Macbeth, and the sinister workings of a secret society of very VERY evil lords and ladies.

I thought that Tee and Pip did an absolutely wonderful job with the plot for this book. There is an almost constant influx of chase scenes, battle scenes, and death-defying moments, yet these moments of tense peril are also balanced out extremely well with smart dialogue, interesting inventions, and most importantly, an fascinating and believable mystery. As the tension (and body count) mounts, you feel completely immersed in the underbelly of London's secret societies and the story just grips you up and refuses to let you go until you've reached the very last punctuation mark on the very last page. Such imagination, such creativity! I was really blown away by how much I loved every minute of my reading experience. This is truly a series for those of you who love steampunk!

As for historical accuracy, I definitely give props to Pip and Tee for incorporating all of the information without making it seem like a history lesson. Victorian England was a very stressful and complicated world to explore, not only for the wretched poor, but also for the middle and upper classes. While middle class suffered from overwork and horrible conditions, the upper class had to traverse the perils of society. It is a well documented fact that secret societies were very popular among the upper crust, and rumors abound about the inner workings of such factions. Ritualistic murders? Sadistic orgies? There is so much literary gold just beneath the surface of history and Phoenix Rising did an excellent job capturing the spirit and the...suspense...revolving around such things. I also really appreciated the references to classic novels such as 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea and Edgar Allen Poe's House of Usher. 20,000 Leagues is actually one of the first "steampunk" novels and I was excited to see it referenced, though those who have not read some of the classics may miss these connections.

I give Phoenix Rising 5 Keys! It was absolutely a joy to read and I had to physically restrain myself from jumping right into book two when I was finished with it. I wanted to write this review while book one was the only Eliza and Welly adventure in my head so I didn't muddy the two, but it's been so hard waiting! This book is such a thrill. It's a delightful playground for the creative mind. I WAS going to include my copy of this book and the next in the series in a giveaway today...but you know what guys? I love them too much to let them go! So sorry! I DO however have the pair up for grabs for a Giveaway later in the week so make sure to be commenting, discussing, and sharing the word about Let's Get Steamy and you too can experience the greatness that is Books and Braun!.
I give Phoenix Rising Three Gears!  I will say that this book (and it's sequel) are probably a bit much for first time steam-punkers. Those of you who aren't used to the genre may become flustered by the writing style, the references, and the amount of technology (i.e. automatons, aetherguns, etc.) I would rate it a MEDIUM on the scale of Steampunk Difficulty, but it was definitely enjoyable and worth it for beginners and enthusiasts alike!  It's got a lot of the flourishes and embellishments of language that were popular in Victorian times. (Think reading a Jane Austen Novel) but the writing style was over-all, pretty easily understandable. The mechanics were freaking AWESOME and they weren't hard to figure out or understand. Honestly, I think this book is the best "modern" embodiment of the Steampunk genre that I've read so far this month (and that's saying alot!)  Phoenix Rising is just a fun and fantastic example of Steampunk and everyone who loves the genre should give it a try. Also...I feel like it would be a good book to make that kind of awkward transition from Young Adult steampunk into Adult.
P.S. Be sure to comment on this, and all other reviews, guest posts, and interviews with the Let's Get Steamy 2.0 Logo on them! Each meaningful comment gains the author of said comment an entry into the Grand Prize Giveaway (Including books, fashion, jewelry, and registrations for Steampunk Conventions Nation wide!) Discussion is appreciated so please feel free to ask questions, provide insight (because sometimes even I don't know what the hell I'm talking about...) and just have fun! 


  1. Loving the cover. A helpful review thank you.


  2. I have book one and am glad this series is still rocking. I adore the cover!

  3. I want to read this one! I am hooked by the cover and your review just made me want to pick it up even more.

    Great review, girl!

  4. I have heard mixed things about this series but you seem to love them so much I might have to check it out. Thanks