Bryony Pearce – Phoenix Burning

bryonypearce-phoenixburningAs they sail the junk-filled seas, the crew of the Phoenix have just one thing on their mind — the search for the island where they can settle. But their ship is missing a crucial component, so when Ayla appears from enemy ship the Banshee offering to cut a deal, they accept.

Toby and Ayla must infiltrate a sect of sun worshippers, steal the parts they need and get out. But once they’re inside the cult it becomes clear that the price of failure is high … and leaving is far from easy.

Their only chance of survival is to work together. But can Toby trust Ayla?

Phoenix Burning is the second entry in Bryony Pearce’s Phoenix duology, following after last year’s Phoenix Rising. I really enjoyed Phoenix Rising and I remained firmly #BansheeCrew after finishing it, much to my own surprise really. As such I was really looking forward to Phoenix Burning to see whether what came next would change my stance and of course to see what would be next for Toby and Ayla. 

Where I considered Phoenix Rising to be more towards the younger end of the YA scale, Phoenix Burning definitely skews older than that. Both Ayla and Toby have grown and matured over the course of the last book and this is reflected in the narrative. Phoenix Burning is far more about the consequences of your actions — or your inactions — and about forgiveness and trust, particularly how hard it is to regain the latter once you lose it. The one thing I wished for in my review of Phoenix Rising was that there could have been more Ayla and Pearce fulfilled my wish quite deftly. Phoenix Burning is very much a Toby and Ayla book, since for most of the narrative they are stuck on Gozo together. Granted, the story is still told from Toby’s point of view, but we learn far more about Ayla and her inner life than we did previously. The conflicting loyalties that plague both of them are played out to great effect with the tension between their feelings for each other and the needs of their respective ships stretching them further and further.

The setup of the Solar Order on Gozo was terrifying and strangely believable. I can totally picture how some people would gravitate to such a sect after as devastating a global event as the super volcano eruption. The need for solace guidance would be great after such traumatic events, but it would be easy to understand why faith in current religion would wane. The selection of the avatars of their faith in the form of a series of trials is both reminiscent of earlier religions and of the gruesome trials such as those seen in the Hunger Games and Divergent, creating a sense of continuity. The trials are all meant to test the competitors’ endurance, cunning, and discipline by confronting them with physical and mental hardship based on those things that humanity often instinctively fears, such as fire, drowning, the dark, and creepy crawlies. The harshness of the Order is only reenforced by the two leaders Father Dahon and Mother Hesper, who are both unforgiving and unkind, though we catch some glimpses of kindness in some of the other Brothers and Sisters of the Sun.

Toby and Ayla are joined by eight other couples in the trials. I really enjoyed the different couples, especially the ones who stay in the race longer as we learn more about them and about their background. They and the competition also serve to show the essential differences between Toby and Ayla: Toby thinks in terms of creating alliances and support, where Ayla only thinks in terms of besting others—she’s basically that one contestant in any reality show competition saying: “I didn’t come here to make friends, I came to win!” But we also see that Ayla can’t help herself being kind when she can, sometimes in spite of herself. The final trial and outcome of the competition was quite surprising, I hadn’t seen the twist coming. There are also some unexpected appearances in the novel, with the most notable one coming towards the end of the book. I won’t go into details for the sake of avoiding spoilers, but it was an interesting narrative choice and crystallised the bond between Toby and Ayla even more clearly.

The ending of the novel is satisfying, wrapping up the plot nicely and leaving the characters on a hopeful note. Yet at the same time, this is not happily ever after and Pearce definitely left herself a great big hook to come back to if she ever decides to return to this world. Which, to be fair, I hope she does, because I truly enjoy the world Pearce has created and the characters that live in it. If you enjoy interesting dystopian settings, exciting adventures and pirate capers, then check out Phoenix Burning and its predecessor Phoenix Rising, they are both well worth the read. Oh and in case you were wondering? I’m still #BansheeCrew all the way.

This book was provided for review by the publisher.