In The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma, it’s time for a new leader of the kingdom of Ravence to rise. Elena is prepared to become queen on her twenty-fifth birthday, just like her ancestors have for generations. She has some serious changes in mind for Ravence. But mostly she just wants to be a good queen to her people. But she’s not convinced her father is ready to relinquish the throne. As they dance around the question of ascension, Elena is assigned a new bodyguard, Yassen Knight. He’s a gift from her fiance, Samson. Sam and Yassen go way back, there is no one else that Samson would trust to guard the future queen. But Yassen has a checkered past and Elena doesn’t trust him. When the time comes, where will his loyalties lie?
[Note: While I am reviewing this novel independently and honestly, it should be noted that it has been provided to me by Orbit for the purpose of this review. Warning: My review of The Phoenix King contains some spoilers!]
The Phoenix King is full of regrets and redemption
The kingdom of Ravence worships fire and their goddess is a phoenix, reborn through fire for all time. But yet there is a love/hate relationship between fire and the phoenix. Because the phoenix occasionally empowers prophets. These prophets can be kind and helpful to the people or they can be cruel and destroy everything in their path.
It’s been a very long time since the last prophet rose. That prophet almost destroyed the world. King Leo Malhari of Ravence is certain that if a new prophet rises, they too will be a vengeful prophet that will devastate the world. His time of power is passing but he’s determined to pass on a safe and, more importantly, secure kingdom to his daughter before it does.
Samson is a big part of his plan. He has built himself quite the army over the years and harbors a deep personal hatred for the Jantari, the Ravini’s greatest enemy. In exchange for the princess’ hand, Ravence gains control of Samson’s army, hopefully squashing thoughts of war between the two countries. But part of having Samson and his army is having Yassen.
Yassen has been a member of an assassin group for most of his life, but that group has burned his name. He’s considered a traitor everywhere because of his past but Ravence is his home and he has nowhere else to go, so he follows Samson there. Elena is livid and doesn’t want him as her guard but her father insists on sealing the deal with Samson. And so the two begin a dance, her trying to punish him for his past, and him trying to prove to her he’s reformed.
It’s also full of secrets and schemes
Literally, no one and nothing is what they seem in The Phoenix King. Everyone has secrets, everyone is lying about something, and everyone is scheming for something. You never know who you can trust. Every time you think you have things figured out, Aparna Verma pulls the rug out from under you again. This continues all the way until the very last page! It’s exhausting but in a good way.
I have to say I was impressed because there was one mystery that I was quite certain I had solved. It was actually disappointing me as I read because it was such a simple and obvious “mystery”. But then it turns out I was totally wrong! That doesn’t happen very often (I read so much that I have already seen most twists in some form and figure them out quickly) so hats off to Verma for surprising me, I always love when that happens!
The Phoenix King has a lot going on
The Phoenix King could just be a simple story about a princess waiting to become a queen. Or it could be a story about a woman falling in love with someone she can’t trust. It could be a story about a father and a daughter trying to navigate their changing relationship as they enter a new phase in their lives. Or it could be a story of revolution. Or of war. The Phoenix King could be a story of a daughter searching for her dead mother. Or searching for her birthright. Perhaps a story about grief and loss? Or the story of a man starting over, searching for peace. Possibly it’s the story of a traitor searching for redemption. It could be any of these, instead, it’s all of these. But it turns out it’s all of these and a few more besides.
Aparna Verma really fleshes out all her characters. She gives them all backstories and desires that are very relevant to the story. That is why she’s able to pack so many different tales into The Phoenix King. The really amazing thing is that she packs all these different plots in without making the book confusing or losing relevancy. She manages to fill out each character in a way that makes them feel real and known to the reader. This makes their stories become part of the overall reality of The Phoenix King, multilayered and detailed just like real life. It was a joy to read all the different facets of Verma’s world and see how they all fit together.
A vibrant world to dive into this summer
The Phoenix King offers a lot to readers. Verma builds an exciting fantasy world filled with great characters that readers will love escaping into. Sympathy for Yassen and Elena’s plights is well-balanced with thrilling battles and intense character interactions. This keeps the book from being stifled with sadness while offering more depth than a simple adrenaline rush.
The Phoenix King is only the first of a promised trilogy so readers should be prepared for a cliffhanger at the end but the story is so captivating enough that it’s worth having to wait for the next installment. This is Aparna Verma’s first novel, but if it’s any indication of her future work, readers should be excited to discover what she has to offer.
My Rating: 8/10
The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma is available on August 29, 2023. Will this be on your TBR list? Let us know on Twitter or in the Cosmic Circus Discord!