Jebi is a Hwagugin artist and somewhat of a pacifist, struggling to make a living in a country recently incorporated into the Empire of Razan. When Razanei racism threatens Jebi’s livelihood, they accept a job at the Ministry of Armor, using their artistic skills to harness the mysterious magic that gives life to the automata, machines that are enslaved to the empire. Jebi is soon drawn into government plots and forced to confront the brutality of the Razanei colonisation, with the help of a dragon automata.
Readers of fantasy who get excited about new magic systems will enjoy Phoenix Extravagant as much as I did. Lee has some fantastic and original ideas, incorporating magic into his story in an important way. He intertwines it with myth, culture and art in order to frame the moral struggle of the main characters – to remain true to themselves, their heritage and their family.
Phoenix Extravagant features a non-binary protagonist and a society where sexual orientation is inconsequential. Lee writes about this in a sensitive yet critical manner, and in doing so liberates his chosen themes from binary gender stereotypes in an effective way.
I’m hard pressed to think of an infallible (human) character in this book, however Lee is unbiased in his storytelling and each character feels relatable. I was fascinated by Jebi’s relationship with their sister Bonsunga throughout the story. We’re told more than once that Jebi believes art is about the inner nature of things, and accordingly Lee’s writing is a study of core human values with this ensemble.
I loved Lee’s writing and thought this was a beautiful, nuanced story. I cannot WAIT to have a physical copy [edit: it finally arrived! It’s even signed!!!] so I can stare at that stunning cover. I have high hopes that Rebellion will release a line of merch that includes a matching bedspread.
Phoenix Extravagant releases in the UK on 15th Oct 2020 and is available for pre-order. In the meantime, Lee’s sci-fi trilogy Machineries of Empire is available for purchase.
Thank you to Rebellion Publishing, NetGalley and Yoon Ha Lee for providing me with an advanced copy in exchange for an honest review.