Monday, August 8, 2011

The Muse Reviews: Phoenix Rising, A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel

In the mood for a little steampunk with charming characters and a romp of a good time? Perfect. Because that's what you get with Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.

If you're a science fiction and fantasy reader, you know what today's shelves are filled with. Sparkly vampires, werewolves, ghostly lovers, and their paranormal, bandwagon-riding cousins. Post-apocalyptic zombies with a sense of humor or a fondness for the late 18th century novel of manners. Never-ending 100,000-page sagas of characters so numerous, it's like the Tribbles multiplied when you weren't looking.

But you can take a break from it all with a breezy, charming little steampunk romp called Phoenix Rising, A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel by Pip (Philippa) Ballantine and Tee Morris.

The story? In a world where steam engines run incredible inventions a la the famed TV show The Wild West, it's fair to say a lot of odd things are happening in London. The nefarious House of Usher lurks in the wings, an unpredictable threat. Londoners are being killed, their bodies left without bones, sans blood, or in other inexplicable conditions. A government agent investigates and winds up in Bedlam. A mysterious foreign assassin runs amok in the Opera House...

You name it; it happens. This novel is jam-packed with action, all of which will look great on the big screen if Phoenix Rising gets optioned by Hollywood. I hope it does. I'd love to see the special effects, and the characters are loads of fun.

The two protagonists are an odd couple, forced together into a partnership at the secretive government agency where they work to protect Queen Victoria and the British realm from peculiar occurrences. Sort of like The X-Files with tea and scones. Eliza Braun is a female government agent from the colonies (New Zealand to be exact), known for brash action, a fondness for guns and explosives, and her bulletproof corset. She joins forces with Wellington Books, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrence's very proper librarian (ahem, archivist), who has a brilliant mind but no field experience, to try and bring down a mysterious and sinister organization before it destroys Britain.

Like you'd expect in a steampunk novel, the characters balance good manners and a stiff British upper lip with mayhem, and it is a blast to follow along and see what happens. The romantic tension between Eliza and Wellington is neatly done and never overshadows the action. The writing flows well, keeping you moving steadily forward to the exciting, explosive ending. And there are just enough threads to lead to a second novel. (It's sci-fi. The authors can't afford to throw away the opportunity for a series, and they don't.)

You may recognize one or both authors from other works. Ballantine recently wrote Geist, the first in a series of fantasy novels. Morris created the podcast novel Morevi and the informational how-to book All a Twitter, among other works. Their combined effort on Phoenix Rising is so lively that it's clear they enjoyed working together as coauthors.

Bottom line: Phoenix Rising is certainly worth picking up at your local bookstore (which is still a marker of traditional publishing success). Or if you prefer, get it in e-book form. Plan to read it rather quickly; you won't want to put it down.

For more information, visit the official website for the novel, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. And you can follow the whole gang, authors and the Ministry, on Twitter too.

Copyright (c) by Michele Chiappetta. All rights reserved.


  1. Good review, Michele. Phoenix Rising sounds interesting.

    I thought I was applying to have my blog listed on a certain site and ended up agreeing to review books. Oh well, I need the experience.

  2. Thanks, Bob. I think you'd like the book. Will you be reviewing books on your blog, then?


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