Wake of the Phoenix by Chelsea Harper
Title: Wake of the Phoenix
Author: Chelsea Harper
Publisher: Self-Pub (BooksGoSocial)
Published Date: September 28th 2021
Length: 432 pages
Genre: Fiction, Fantasy, LGBTQIA, Political intrigue etc.
War Hero. Thiefmaster’s apprentice. Traitors. Every title comes with a price.
Arkaen is a gods-damned saint. He sacrificed his childhood innocence fighting for the beleaguered rebellion in a civil war and relinquished a comfortable life with the man he loves to reclaim his place as high lord from corrupt nobles. Now, a hidden enemy is manipulating his lower lords into talk of rebellion, including the powerful Rogue Baron who is slowly swaying the city into questioning every move Arkaen makes.
With the help of his near-omniscient lover’s gift of foresight, Arkaen finds a potential ally in Niamsha, a reluctant thief trying to pay for her brother’s education. But Niamsha owes an insurmountable debt to the mysterious leader of her thieves guild and failing to pay means death—for her entire family. When her guild leader demands she join forces with the Rogue Baron himself, she finds herself caught in a political battle beyond her skills. Torn between protecting her family and following her conscience, Niamsha doesn’t know who to trust.
If Arkaen can win Niamsha’s loyalty, he might just prevent a second civil war and the destruction of everything he fought to protect. Or he might get them all killed.
Okay, I don’t know whose review I read that made me pick this one up on NetGalley but I am glad that I did because this is a good read. This was a whim but a good one, I think. I think what this book manages best is the aesthetic and world building. I was immediately reeled in with the world and how it worked. There’s a valid reason for me not rating it 4 or 5 stars though and I wish that in the next book, there will be growth in characters that won’t make me want to tear my hair out.
Arkaen is one of the key characters that we are introduced to. I am not quite sure if he is really the protagonist because despite being a war hero and being loved by the people of the land, he’s not the most interesting character I have read. He’s not a great person, in that, we never see a lot of depth from him other than him being in a relationship with Lasha in secret. He’s not willing to play the role set up for him, he won’t marry a woman just to please the society which I admire but there’s the issue of keeping their relationship hidden from everyone.
Lasha is an interesting character that I truly would have loved to know more about because there are so many hints at him being super interesting in regards to his powers and his history and just him in general. I am not sure if he was deliberately underused or if the author forgot to add layers to him but I wish he was explored more thoroughly because that’s the one character I would truly love to know. What makes him, what breaks him. His magical abilities seem neat and I would love to read more about him. (Can you tell he’s kinda my favourite in this novel?)
Niamsha. Ah, Niamsha. For someone who’s supposedly street smart, she sure is naive. I think I would have liked her more if she hadn’t fallen prey to the same treatment Arkaen got. Not super interesting even though she could have been. Also the way the author wrote her and her background was….interesting, shall we say. There were choices made in showing us what to think of the class struggles and how we are supposed to look at people who do not come with privilege. Niamsha is supposed to be an ally to Arkaen and they were supposed to be the super team up but the thing is, the way she is written and the obvious biased views imposed on me throughout the novel about people from lower class made it very hard for me to genuinely like her or even feel a lot for her.
There are issues other than just character work for me and those mostly come from the choices the author made. Sure, we could have a relationship with LGBT people who are not quite out yet and it could be done well in a fantasy setting but this particular relationship did not seem healthy or good. They could have been the literal power trying to stop the rebellion but instead, they were so much less. The romance could stand to be a little more romantic too, there were certain words that I would not want to read in a romance, no matter how medieval the setting is. Niamsha and her arc could have been done in a better light too, with the biased view that was obviously imposed on the reader.
However, overall, this one gets 3.50 rating simply because of the world building and the way it managed to reel me in. There’s good politics and intrigue written in between not-so-great characters. It is not easy to create believable worlds and Chelsea Harper did that and for that, this book gets the rating it does. I am hoping that the next books manage to show characters’ growth or even depth and more exploration of the personalities while keeping the world building and aesthetics at the same level. It didn’t disappoint me but I was extremely frustrated with the characters and how they were written and I can’t let go of that.