October 4th, 2013
The Phoenix Rising-Destiny Calls by Phenice Arielle
This book was referred to me by the author and another book blogger I connect with. Seeing that it's set mainly in South Africa, seemed to have black characters as main and minor characters, and possibly an interracial romance?(Read further to understand why) I jumped on the opportunity to read it. The Phoneix Rising Destiny Calls definitely has great potential! There were a few things that held the story back, but other than that, I see no reason why another may take something different from the book.
Points in the plot were a bit off at times. There were a handful of times when the story went into a flashback/back story and gave almost no notice. It was difficult to distinguish the present from the past. I'd almost suggest perhaps putting flashbacks in italics. It gave me huge brain farts, and I really wanted to get back to the present. There were also times were the consistency/reliability was lacking as well. Again, this goes back to the flashbacks. I think had there been ways to reveal backstory through a "dummy character" or an outside character who doesn't know as much as the main two(which were Kay, and shifting depending on different times in the book)characters. This is not to say a "dummy character" is without knowledge. But they act as the reader might. Which is usually being full of questions, that are relevant to the story. Some knowledge just didn't seem relevant to show, and it slowed down the consistency and pacing.
I will however award a point for the world-building. Let's face it, whenever an adventure SF/F story is told, it's rare, if any, told with African culture, lore, or even geography in mind. I'm ashamed to admit I don't read more speculative fiction with more African themes, considering how Afro-Centric I've become over there years. "Ipharadisia" or paradise in english, was a fictional kingdom in South Africa, full of former refugees seeking safe havens. Many of them were victims of being held captive at poacher camps. Perhaps at times it was a bit much, as while I'm awarding it the point, it does somewhat enforce that places in Africa aren't not advanced, and still live indigenously. Watch any film depicting an apocalyptic world. They show every continent, and as always "Africa" is the only that appears extremely behind. This is not against the book, just something I notice in media. I didn't find it predictable, so I'll award it that point, but it was mainly due to the back story being so distracting.
Character development wise, I did find Nanyamka aka "Kay" relatable. I too have a name everyone never bothered pronouncing correctly, so up until 21, I really didn't go by my first name. She was a an ambitious aspiring journalist, and she wasn't a stereotype. She was actually quite bookish. She also mentioned wearing "box braids" up until the events in the book, and I recently tried box braids and loved them. With that being said, her personality was just a personality. She wasn't a personality with a "race" attached to it, so if you couldn't relate to her due to her being black, you'd really have to look inside yourself to why you may not have found her relatable.
I mentioned the development and backstory earlier, so unfortunately I cant award that point, but if nothing, there was plenty of conflict. At times there was TOO much conflict, as there were a million things going on at once. It's great to have sub-plots. In fact I encourage them, which is why Im awarding the point, but sub-plots you have to learn which works best. Not every single situation that awards conflict needs to be in one book,especially if it is a planned series. There were three groups of villains, and it makes me wonder what the next book will possibly find a threat in. Again, relying on being set mainly in South Africa, as well as having many African people, focus on culture, even having a leading lady with an African name,was unique. Point granted.
Grammar and writing style are going to be issues for me. The writing often over explained things. And the character's over explained things, they came off as talking too much, and/or having unrealistic dialogue. The POV is clear, as it's told in first person, but the backstory makes me reluctant. For POV I will however grant the point. Again I mentioned the story over explained things, and when the story didn't, the characters did. I think perhaps a developmental edit would have really helped. I think the story has immense potential. But some points could have been cut, and while it would have made the book shorter, it may have flowed much better.
Diversity is where this book wins. Kay was "African" American. Although she was described as being a golden color. Most might mistake that for being tan, so perhaps her description could have been clearer. I've read many characters who were obviously black, but with little description, readers take that the characters are a "default" white. She also wasn't a walking stereotype, so anyone could relate to her.
One of the things that stood out as far as the research was the "Donga" fighting style. I freaking peed in my pants XD. So few people know this Nilotic style of martial arts. Im such a martial arts geek, I love martial arts from many countries. Many haven't even heard of this style, and trust me, I've found no films, books, shows or anything outside of youtube that has given me any inside on it. I was glad the story was able to pull from such a great resource!
Her love interest was maybe Asian? It was never clear.He was described to have an almond shaped eye set, but sometimes people use that as a way to describe a epicanthal fold, which is common in many of Asian or African descent. White and Asian men don't have a ton of racial indicators that are different outside of their facial structure, so since his face was never described, I often pictured him mixed race or "Hapa". He could have also been a Latino guy whom could be mulatto, white or Asian, but I was never really sure. A last name would have really helped. Her best friend was Australian so that was cute. And since it was set mainly in South Africa, there were many black characters, as well as white Africans as well. Erec, her other love interest was Nigerian(Yeah for Yorubas! I can speculate that's where my heritage comes from being Afro-Cuban and all) and to be honest, I liked him better. Callum was at times whiney, and TOO perfect. I like a guy with some flaws, and this is not to say he needs to be a jerk, but Erec just seemed like the guy I'd go for, despite having a real thing for Callum.
Some characters seemed more forced than others, however. I think the empowerment of the main character was there. I wish her sister Zaina, despite being a villain throughout a majority of the story would have been a bit spread out. I didn't really feel for her, and I like a villain who appears to more than just an angry person.
Miscellaneous, I suppose the title is fitting. The lion actually played more of a role than the phoenix though. Also something I try to look for in fantasy and sci-fi, and fall short on. The cover is ok. I wouldnt say I dislike it, and it does suit the book. I just think it wouldnt pop out at me at a brick and mortar setting. The character names suited. I was really glad, for the sake of authenticity, that most the characters who were natives of African countries had ethnic names. It sucked that Kay let her surroundings bully her into never using her full name, but living in the US, this is pretty common. But many of the characters had awesome names. Many Im ashamed I probably couldn't pronounce XD But I still really liked them. Character descriptions were ok. They werent always enough to get a clear picture of them. Many characters were introduced as if I'd already known who they were. Zaina seemed to be the person who was described in the clearest detail, so Im not sure I can award the point.
Overall I liked the book. I will probably read the sequel, and I would suggest it to anyone looking for a diverse read featuring African characters!
As far as dreamcasting goes, I had just happened to admit a Nigerian Independence Day Gala at Yale. Ironically I was reading this book around the same time as it, and met my real version of Erec and Kay!
Callum I had no idea what race he was, so I dont know how to accurately cast him.