Author: Angela Yeh
First Published by Austin Macauley Publishers in 2021
Review by Miriam Atkinson
A Phoenix Rises by Angela Yeh is a young adult fantasy novel that combines the magic and political intrigue of the Throne of Glass series with the journeying and questing of Lord of the Rings. When teenager Maya discovers her secret magical heritage and her school friend Alban goes missing, she along with her Grandmother Esa and the gruff Harrow have no choice but to flee their village to avoid capture.
When describing Maya’s appearance, Yeh highlights Maya’s “warm chestnut skin, her deep brown eyes and full black hair”. It was wonderful to read a YA fantasy novel that features a teenage girl of colour as the heroine. (Wider representation and diversity in YA fiction is always a win!) As well as developing her magical abilities, over the course of the story Maya gradually learns to love her natural curly hair and embrace how she looks. I am sure that there will be some young readers who will be able to relate to aspects of Maya’s personality and be inspired by her determination, loyalty and growing self-confidence.
Despite being a high fantasy novel, A Phoenix Rises feels like it could be set in the real world. Although magic is present on the continent of Voldaria it is a rarity. With the exception of the Lothlorien-esque elven city, the rural towns and locations that Maya and Harrow visit could easily be places in our own world. I enjoyed the inclusion of ordinary, working-class settlements and inhabitants instead of communities of people living in grand futuristic-style cities. This gave many of the places a very grounded and realistic feel.
I do have one big concern with A Phoenix Rises and that is the romance sub-plots. From the opening chapters we learn that Maya only is fourteen years old. She has two main love interests in the novel – the elf Hoosah and the dark, mysterious stranger Seth. Although no exact age is given for either character, we can conclude that Hoosah must be at least a few decades old as he knew Esa when she was younger. Additionally Seth is always described as a man, not a teenager. While I have no issue with teenager Maya having a crush on someone older than her, I do have a problem with both male characters clearly reciprocating those feelings and we as readers are supposed to find those scenes romantic rather than inappropriate. In my opinion this issue could have been fixed either by making Maya a young adult, by choosing Alban as the love interest, or by creating a sibling-like bond to tie Maya, Hoosah and Seth together rather than a romantic bond.
Despite this A Phoenix Rises is an interesting fantasy novel with a lot of potential. The book has a target audience of teens and young adults and I do believe that these are the age groups that will get the most enjoyment from the story.
A Phoenix Rises was published on Reedsy Discovery in May 2021. This review is also available on Discovery’s website. You can check it out here.