Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Series #1)

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Phoenix Rising (Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Series #1) by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris

There are plenty of options when it comes to choosing a steampunk title. While some positively shine with creative plots, witty dialogue and nefarious machinations, others languish in tired storylines, subpar banter and predictable villainy.

Although Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel certainly doesn’t fall in the latter category, it doesn’t quite belong in the former, either.

The book’s premise is this: When corpses wash up on the banks of the Thames, devoid of blood and bone, Eliza D. Braun and Wellington – agents within England’s Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences – are thrown together as the most unlikely partners. The two agents must race against time to discover who is behind the evil lurking in the streets of Victorian England before it’s too late.

The book’s tag reads: Malevolence has met its match in Agents Books and Braun.

It might better read: Mediocrity has found its home in Agents Books and Braun.

Harsh? Possibly. But, all in all, a rather fair assessment.

As much as the reader wants to dive headfirst into a new steampunk adventure, it takes quite a while to actually become interested in the book. Even though it started out with a heavy action scene, the story fails in creating reader concern for the two main characters.

Books and Braun – an obvious play on brains and brawn – are good characters, but they’re presented in a way that makes it rather difficult to emotionally connect with them. It takes several chapters before the reader develops anything that resembles concern for the duo. Braun is rash and blindly charges into situations. Books is the snappy intellect who provides the voice of reason, even if Braun rarely listens. The dynamic feels clichéd.

Like in most novels, the two leads develop an attraction for each other, and it’s here where the story loses any momentum it’s managed to build. The romance is rushed and, at times, even forced. Without giving anything away, a key scene in which Wellington escorts Braun home smacks of fan fiction clichés and is disappointing. The writers fail in establishing believable reasons for the agents’ eventual attraction to one another.

That being said, the storyline is fair and occasionally amusing. There are better steampunk novels out there – Gail Carriger’s Parasol Protectorate series comes to mind – and on the whole, this is, at best, mildly entertaining.

The second book comes out in May 2013. Being a firm believer in second chances, I’ll most likely pick it up and see what’s in store for Agents Books and Braun. Hopefully, the two agents will have gotten their steampunk legs and embark on better-constructed adventure with a more heart and a solid plot.

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