Phoenix Rising is the first book in The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, by Tee Morris and Pip Ballantine. The series is set in an alternate 19th Century full of steampunk wonder, James Bond-like gadgets and pulp adventure. Phoenix Rising moves along at a rollicking pace and feels like a classic pulp adventure with twists, turns and exciting action sequences. It also has enough odd contraptions, interesting locations and class conflict to keep steampunk fans hooked. I also really enjoyed the relationship between the main characters, which provides plenty of entertaining conflict. Everything is over the top and larger than life, which I enjoyed, and the villains are truly despicable. Some of the characters are a little two dimensional, but that can be forgiven in the spirit of pulp adventure stories. I did get a bit tired of Miss Braun, the female protagonist, constantly talking about her New Zealand heritage – while jingoism is totally appropriate for the period and the genre the story is emulating, it just didn’t add anything to the character after the third time or so. Miss Braun is painted as a sexually liberated woman, which plays a central role in both her characterisation and the plot. I may be a bit of a prude, but I found the constant “strategic bust reveal” and her teasing of her partner as overdone – however, there is some plot justification for this, and hopefully it will be less obvious (or necessary) in future novels. Those minor complaints aside, Miss Braun is a strong, capable and effective secret agent, and a wonderful contrast to Mr Books, her librarian – sorry, archivist – partner. Overall, I enjoyed this book and look forward to future releases in the series.
Phoenix Rising by Philippa Ballantine
My rating: 4 of 5 stars