Book Review: The Book of the Phoenix

The Book of the Phoenix by Nnedi Okorafor, Who Fears Death #0.1

Phoenix was grown and raised among other genetic experiments in New York’s Tower 7. She is an “accelerated woman”—only two years old but with the body and mind of an adult, Phoenix’s abilities far exceed those of a normal human. Still innocent and inexperienced in the ways of the world, she is content living in her room speed reading e-books, running on her treadmill, and basking in the love of Saeed, another biologically altered human of Tower 7.

Then one evening, Saeed witnesses something so terrible that he takes his own life. Devastated by his death and Tower 7’s refusal to answer her questions, Phoenix finally begins to realize that her home is really her prison, and she becomes desperate to escape.

But Phoenix’s escape, and her destruction of Tower 7, is just the beginning of her story. Before her story ends, Phoenix will travel from the United States to Africa and back, changing the entire course of humanity’s future.

I hadn't heard about The Book of the Phoenix until it popped up in the post. I had heard of Nnedi Okorafor's The Lagoon last year, and how well received it was, but unfortunately I haven't had the chance to read it yet. Nnedi Okorafor won back in 2011 the World Fantasy Award for Who Fears Death, her first adult fantasy book. Now four years later, she returns to the universe of Who Fears Death with a spectacular and fiery prequel, it will burn a lasting mark on you. The synopsis might sound only action packed but there is a definite emotional undercurrent in the storyline that will get to you... Very impressive to say the least.

The Book of the Phoenix centers around the protagonist Phoenix, I went into the book expecting to directly read about Phoenix, a speciMen, however Nnedi Okorafor starts of the story some what different. I honstestly didn't know what to make of it, but it did make the promise of the story in the end even that much bigger. After this introduction the focus is on Phoenix and her "easy" life in Tower 7. I am saying easy because Phoenix doesn't know any better, she gets her breakfast, lunch and dinner, get her play time, they basically serve her every need. Phoenix currently is only two years old, but has the body of an adult. Take due note that her mind isn't that of a two year old, she has gained a lot of information with her reading, she has an ereader with unlimited books. Besides reading, Phoenix has one very good friend living in Tower 7. Saeed. Saeed is also engineered but differently then Phoenix, Saeed doesn't eat normal food, he lives on trash and debris. But even due to what Phoenix sees Saeed eat, she accepts him as more than a friend and Saeed sees Phoenix in the same way. But jsut as they get closer, something happens to Saeed, he witnesses something horrific. So horrific that he takes his own life, it only becomes clear later, how Saeed did it (I wont spoil it but you know this was quite clever! Just remember that Saeed can live only on debris, rusty shavings as chips). This comes to Phoenix as more than a shock and not knowing exactly how to handle it, she demands answers by the Tower's personal, who are reluctant in giving it. At this point, the truth starts to dawn on Phoenix, and she has her first "flame on" moment. And things start to happen in a flash. Because with destroying Tower 7 and setting her first step outside of the it, Phoenix realizes all what she is and understands more what she can do. But the Tower authorities aren't letting Phoenix escape that easily, they are determined to retrieve her, she is still a genetic experiment that could hold a key towards something big, bigger than humanity itself. 

As I already said in the beginning, it might all sound purely action packed and quite frankly
it is, the fact that Phoenix has the ability to heat her body to high degrees use this power for destruction should already say enough, her being hunted and having to be resourceful should say even more. Added to this comes, not at all in between the lines, a wonderful development of Phoenix herself. She is a truly wonderful character to read about. She has only been kept in Tower 7 for all her life, now with her breaking free she gets a lot of outside stimuli, stimuli she has only read about in books, luckily this doesn't make her completely a stranger to the outside world but together with her personal experience and the knowledge gained from books, she makes her own conclusions and carves out her own path, her coming-of-age story. And this turns very emotional, very soon. Beautiful even. 

One other thing besides Phoenix as protagonist that caught my attention was the world that Nnedi Okorafor shows in The Book of the Phoenix. I haven't read Who Fear Death so I cant compare them. When you read the first part of the book, the scene in the cave you know that something is up, later the transition towards Tower 7 it feels clean and full of possibilities, well if only... This world is everything except glorious. The Towers all stand on American soil, but when Phoenix is fleeing from the authorities she chooses to travel to Africa, now BAM, here is a wealth of world building. I loved these parts, they aren't mere mentionings of locations in the story but they truly build the story. It added so much flavour to the story. Another aspect that I liked a lot was how creative the powers of the different speciMen were that of Saeed for example, quite brilliant. Some counts for Seven and Mmuo too be honest. 

Just the last thing. The writing is just superb, it is so engaging that you just don't want to put this book down. The way that the story is told from the perspective of Phoenix definitely makes you feel for her. Nnedi Okorafor mentioned that this book is the older and angrier version of Who Fear Death, well I can only say that the tone of this book is actually dark. Not horror or thriller dark but well your still dealing with the beginning of an apocalypse. It's by far all sunshine and rainbows!

The Book of the Phoenix is an amazingly rich book and as I said in the beginning it's a spectacular and fiery prequel, it will burn a lasting mark on you. Everything in the book is very well balanced and work well to amplify each other and bring many elements to a completely new level. It is a small book and I never would have dared to imagine that it would contain such a deep story within. The way that Nnedi Okorafor handled the development of Phoenix and the whole story was just amazing. She involves many elements, like the African culture and ways to build her story which works out very well in the end. Now talking about the ending. Wow, now that prologue became clear. A powerful and gripping story from the start.


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