Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel Mass Market Paperback – Apr 26 2011
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From the Back Cover
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!
About the Author
Born in New Zealand, Philippa (Pip) Ballantine has always had her head in a book. A corporate librarian for thirteen years, she has a Bachelor of Arts in English and a Bachelor of Applied Science in Library and Information Science. She is New Zealand's first podcast novelist and has produced four podiobooks. Many of these have been shortlisted for the Parsec Awards, and she has won a Sir Julius Vogel Award. She is also the author of Geist and the soon-to-be-published Spectyr. While New Zealand calls, currently Philippa calls America home.
While Tee Morris began his writing career with Dragon Moon Press's 2002 historical epic fantasy Morevi: The Chronicles of Rafe and Askana, it is his podcast of that book and works such as Podcasting for Dummies and All a Twitter that have earned him the distinction as one of the pioneers of social media. With Phoenix Rising, Tee returns to where he prefers to be—his imagination. When he is not there, Tee lives in the Washington, D.C. area with his five cats and one daughter, all of whom have him very well-trained.
Top Customer Reviews
Although I've always known what Steampunk is and thought it was pretty cool, I had never really gotten into it. So, in a sense, "Phoenix Rising" is my introduction to the genre. And, as an introduction, I think it's fantastic. At its core, it is a spy action adventure with comedic and romantic elements. The Steampunk aspect is more just a part of the world the characters live in and not something being aggressively pushed by the authors. In other words, I got the Steampunk feel of the novel, but it never overwhelmed me and never got in the way of the story.
Speaking of the story, it's quite exciting. I enjoyed very much the adventures of Wellington Books and Eliza Braun, and especially enjoyed their almost constant witty bickering. The book may not be a literary masterpiece, but it was a ton of fun and I found that I could not put it down once I got started.
I would definitely recommend "Phoenix Rising" and cannot wait for the next "Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences" novel mentioned on the authors' Twitter to come out.
Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
The entire concept of the super secret organization the main characters work for is very cool, as is the very charming and smaller Ministry of Seven. In fact, the entire novel is littered with Moments of Cool, ranging from steampunk inventions to orgies to action sequences that will take your breath away. The characters were eminently likeable, and if the joke with the names (Books and Braun) was not subtle, I can honestly say I never stopped being amused by it. Books is actually a very complex character, and I sometimes had the impression the writers liked him more than the impulsive and much easier to understand Braun.
The editing will make you want to punch a publishing house in the face. The shoddy editing was NOT the fault of the writers, nor should it reflect badly on their writing skills. Someone was either asleep at the wheel, or just didn't care enough to do their danged job.
What can be placed on the writers is some inconsistent pacing, or scenes so painful they stalled out my reading. Not to mention the painfully shoehorned romance which not only felt forced, but sometimes downright blasphemous considering how REAL Braun's feelings for her dead ex-partner felt. It's not that any of this was intrinsically BAD, just done in such a way that certain bits could be a chore to read. Thankfully, they were rare--and again, a better editor would have caught such anomalies and had the writers fix them before the book ever went to publishing.
WORLD ESTABLISHMENT. The authors NEVER DID THIS. Sure, they set the steampunk part of it up well--you deeply understood the Ministry, the conspiracy, the asylum, and any part of the world the two characters had to immediately interact with. But for anyone with a smidgen of knowledge of history, they left us hanging. Questions like why Braun would allow the very male Books to see her bathing, questions about their very informal manners when masquerading as a husband/wife duo of the upper classes (hint, the upper class did not generally call each other "sweetheart" in public or cling all over one another), and several dozen other historical inaccuracies left any informed reader swinging in the breeze.
We never discovered if this was normal for this alternate society, or if the authors had just been lazy about researching the facts. Even Braun's suffragist tendencies didn't sit well; she was obscenely aggressive even for a woman of our era, making her a veritable anomaly or possibly a candidate for Bedlam in any earlier time. And yet, no suitable explanation was ever given as to why Braun was being accepted as a functioning member of society. I would have appreciated a little more fleshing out of WHY and HOW their Victorian era was not like OUR Victorian era, other than "they had way cooler guns."
You'll notice, though, that even with it's issues I am giving the book a solid four stars. Why? Because it is obviously a first effort on the part of the writers, and it's pretty danged obvious the writers held up their part of the deal to the best of their abilities. There comes a point in the novel writing process--preferably BEFORE publishing--that a second pair of eyes are supposed to look over, give feedback, and lovingly correct a book. And had that been done, most of the issues seen here (including troublesome grammar, misplaced words, misspelled and even missing words--you know, the basics) would have been corrected.
As well as this was written overall in SPITE of what was an obvious lack of care by their publishers, I suspect they'll get a second crack at this series. And I will want to see it when it comes out. And the fact that I'm willing to try again tells me all I need to know.
Now, I said I like the idea of it. I have to confess to not having read a whole lot of this genre, so I don't have much to compare `Phoenix Rising' with. What I can say is that it had everything I could have hoped for: guns, machines, action, secrecy, sinister plots, good old fashioned British sensibilities.
It also had something I didn't really expect, in the form of the main characters: Eliza Braun, a feisty colonial from New Zealand--obviously this is going to go down well with me, a New Zealander through and through. While the bulk of the novel is set in Britain, it was pleasantly surprising to have someone from outside that country play such an important role.
Books, the unassuming Archivist for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, is also an intriguing character. He is so much more than he first seems. I adore him.
Both are refreshing and original. I thought they were really well developed and brought a lot of depth to this novel. Both appeared to be a certain way to begin with, and over the course of the story we're shown more of their layers and complexities, which is something that really worked for me.
And the plot? Wow. Just, wow. Right from the very start it's action packed--these two sure know how to get themselves caught up in trouble, and get themselves out of it (in fairly good shape anyway!). The storyline threaded through past and present, blending backstory and character history seamlessly into the action, while also raising enough questions to leave the reader itching for the next book in the series. There are bigger things afoot, and I can't wait to find out what happens next.
If you like a rollicking good time, then I encourage you to check this one out--you won't be disappointed. Also, if you get a chance, why not check out the fabulous website for the book? There are some great podcasts in there as well as other fun stuff.
The novel starts with field agent Eliza Braun rescuing the Ministry's archivist, Wellington Books, from a cell in Antarctica, where he was being held by the House of Usher. Braun disobeyed orders by rescuing him; she was supposed to execute him to assure that his knowledge didn't fall into evil hands. To punish her transgression, the Ministry's director, Basil Sound, reassigns her to the archives (an assignment that does not permit her to indulge her passion for dynamite), where she must serve under Books' tutelage. When Books tasks Braun with filing unsolved cases, Braun decides it would be more fun to solve them. In particular, she wants to take on a case that her former partner had been investigating before his admission to an asylum. She enlists Books' help and, working on their own (without the Ministry's knowledge or support), they attempt to infiltrate The Phoenix Society, a secret organization whose members conspire to restore the faded glory of the British Empire. Their self-assigned mission provides an excuse for the novel's various fights and chases, as well as constant bickering (and thinly-concealed desire) between Braun and Books.
One of the charms of steampunk is inventive gadgetry; surprisingly little of that turns up in this novel, and the mechanical devices that finally appear are unoriginal. Much of the novel seems familiar: from the "difference engine" to serrated blades that extend from carriage wheels, from a secret society bent on world domination to Dickensian street urchins, a fair amount of this novel has been done before. Even The Phoenix Society's orgy scene seems like a pale replica of Eyes Wide Shut. With the exception of that scene and some other references to passionate encounters, the novel resembles an episode of the old British television series The Avengers.
Despite its setting in time and territory, Phoenix Rising is not written in the Victorian prose style that characterizes many steampunk novels. I imagine some readers prefer reading modern English but it somehow seems untrue to the steampunk mystique. The novelists' writing style is adequate to the task but it isn't exceptional. I give the writers credit for telling a fun story, one that held my interest, and for creating a couple of winning characters in Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. The novel's end sets up the next in the series; I'll leave it to others to read it. This one wasn't bad but it never rose above ordinary. I would give it 3 1/2 stars if I could.
I am very forgiving when it comes to books I read. That said....
The concept is intriguing and the overall story not a bad one, though it's been done before. Where this book is painfully difficult to read is in the prose. The authors seem to be enamored of their own cleverness and as such open each chapter with a witty description of its contents and pepper the conversations with witty banter. However they also, it seems, tried to write the story using language and sentence structures from the Victorian era and they have failed miserably at this. Whoever edited this book clearly was asleep at the wheel because on virtually every page of the book I have read so far there are maddeningly awkward sentences with bad grammar, mispellings, incorrect pronouns (like saying SHE when it was the male character they were referring to), and even words and sentences that seem to be missing altogether. Characters regularly say things that don't make sense. It gives the impression that the phrase or sentence that preceded the one in question was cut out. The first hundred or so pages plod along after a rather engaging opening sequence. There are moments where the story moves forward slightly but it takes so long to happen. I can zip through books but this one unfortunately is so awkward to read I find I am forcing myself to get through it rather than eagerly turning the pages to find out what happens. I am 140 pages in and debating whether to keep reading.
Characters also seem to have random mood swings and snap for no reason. Some also seem to have no apparent motivation for their behavior.
In one scene, one of the queen's closest advisors informs a Ministry agent that the queen has decided that the Ministry of Peculiar Occurences has outlived its usefulness. He then goes on to inform the agent that another agency will be created to handle its responsibilities. Then the advisor recruits the agent to bring down the Ministry of Peculiar Occurences from the inside. The agent has a brief crisis of conscience and then agrees after the advisor threatens his children. Um, Huh? Why, if the queen has decided the Ministry needs to be replaced, do we need to do a dastardly double-cross and bring it down from the inside? The agent has a thought process something like "I shouldnt do this! Oh well, I dont want to be poor so I'll agree."
There is a scene where they describe a character drinking tea the 'proper' way, with his pinky extended. This was actually, and still is, considered rude and improper. While this may seem trivial it is an example of the overall shortcomings of this novel. It seems the authors wrote a first draft, without doing thorough research, and that draft, with all of its mistakes is what went to press and hit the shelves.
A good story and perhaps even clever turns of phrase are literally sabotaged by so many grammatical and editing errors that reading this book is actually making me more anxious than enthralled. If you have the patience to overlook this, and usually I do, then you may enjoy Phoenix Rising, but sadly I think I'm going to have to move on to something else.
Firstly, Eliza Braun is ridiculously w/o a sense of decorum, and the regrets & loss she feels re. her previous partner are not enough to excuse her behavior now; e.g., she breaks a vase in the Archives through sheer carelessness, and her reaction to being told it was a key part of the map to El Dorado is essentially "Oops". As for Books, he starts out as a charicature of the effete, "bookish" Englishman (which the authors, through Braun's inner musings, actually acknowledge -- they should instead have taken heed of this bad sign!), then reveals himself to the reader (though *not* to Braun -- Why?) as a skilled fighter; again, we are given *glimpses* of his past and emotional issues, but I feel no desire to read the next book just to find out more.
On top of all that, the book is full of awkward -- sometimes even confusing! -- use of *incorrect* vocabulary and syntax, probably trying for "period" usage but failing miserably. I'm not sure I'll try anything else by Ms. Ballantine, although maybe when she's not trying for archness and Victoriana, and not working as a co-author, it might be better. Happily, Kindle often offers sample chapters, to "try before you buy"!