Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee
Publication date: 15 October 2020
Page count: 416 pages
Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars
I was provided with a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review. This review is spoiler-free.
Having read Lee’s Ninefox Gambit, I knew that I should expect a few things from Phoenix Extravagant: an incredibly immersive and original world, great characters, and a compelling read. While I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit, his latest novel absolutely blows it out of the water for me.
Dragons. Art. Revolution.
Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.
One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.
But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes and the awful source of the magical pigments they use they find they can no longer stay out of politics.
What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight.
The thing that stands out to me most about Phoenix Extravagant is the absolute sense of fun — you can tell the author had a blast writing this book. Lee manages to strike a fantastic balance between darker themes and lightness and humor that makes this book a fast-paced and incredibly fun, yet deeply impactful read. While witty banter, unexpectedly sweet characters, and plenty of fun makes Phoenix Extravagant an incredibly compelling and quick read, he does not shy away from the horrors of colonialism — the world is modeled on Korean and Japanese history. Exploring identity, cultural erasure, and the damages of colonialism. It’s a hard-hitting narrative that is easily absorbed by the reader.
One of the greatest aspects of this book is the characteres. Jebi is an absolute delight and totally subverts your expectations of a fantasy lead. A non-binary character who’s gender identity and sexuality is not part of the plot whatsoever, Jebi is a fabulously fun and bumbling hero who just wants to paint. It was so wonderfully refreshing to see a character like Jebi, on many levels, star in their own amazing fantasy book. Their relationships with other characters — both enemies and allies — was fabulous and the dialogue was so well-written.
With amazing characters that twist your expectations as a fantasy reader, to wonderful world-building and an impactful story, Phoenix Extravagant is easily one of my favourite books of the year so far. It feels so wonderfully fresh in a genre that can sometimes be a little stale (despite it being my favourite). Although it seems to be a standalone, I’d absolutely love to devour anything else set in this world!
Want to preorder a copy of Phoenix Extravagant for yourself? You can find it at the following sites (affiliate links):