ARC Review: The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma

Today’s review is about THE PHOENIX KING by Aparna Verma, the first installment in The Ravence Trilogy. It’s an epic fantasy inspired by India that has a nice blend of fantasy and science fiction elements. Readers who have a penchant for stories about assassins and political maneuvering will appreciate this book.

Author: Aparna Verma
Series: The Ravence Trilogy, #1
Age Category: Adult
Publisher: Orbit
Publish Date: August 29, 2023
Print Length: 512

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Official Synopsis

The Ravani kingdom was born of a prophecy, carved from unforgiving desert sands and ruled by the Ravence bloodline: those with the power to command the Eternal Fire.

Elena Aadya is the heir to the throne–and the only Ravence who cannot wield her family’s legendary magic. As her coronation approaches, she will do whatever it takes to prove herself a worthy successor to her revered father. But she doesn’t anticipate the arrival of Yassen Knight, the notorious assassin who now claims fealty to the throne. Elena’s father might trust Yassen to be a member of her royal guard, but she is certain he is hiding something.

As the threat of war looms like a storm on the horizon, the two begin a dangerous dance of intrigue and betrayal. And the choices they make could burn down the world.

My Review

I received a free, digital, advanced reading copy of this book from the publisher via NetGalley. My review is my own and reflects my honest opinion about this book.

THE PHOENIX KING is a harmonious blend of fantasy and science fiction that draws inspiration from India. Set in a world with king killers, neighboring aggressors, and power-hungry political influencers, the people want a change. Elena sees this and seeks to change her family’s rule of Ravani. But what no one anticipates is the looming rise of the Prophet, the one chosen to enact justice ordered by the Phoenix. As the date of Elena’s coronation comes closer, events begin to kindle and ignite into a reckoning.

Before I started to read this I didn’t realize it has both fantasy and science fiction elements. Neither aspect is heavily done, though there exists a religious system with fire magic as well as hoverpods and ships for local transportation. Some may wish for more of one or the other or both. But I was content with the blend since it allowed me to focus more on the characters and story.

The author does a fantastic job realistically introducing and characterizing the leads: Leo, King of Ravani; Elena, heir of Ravani; and Yassen, orphan turned assassin to survive. Some readers may feel that THE PHOENIX KING has a slow start. But I feel that this is a justifiable pace that allows the reader to become familiar with this trio of characters and their conflicted histories. There is plenty of plotting and planning to otherwise entertain the reader until the plot sparks at about the 50% mark, flaring up from there on out. I also appreciated learning about the traumatic histories of the characters and how that shaped them into the complex and resolute people they are now. Though not infallible to bouts of emotion when seemingly unflappable figurative armor disappears, they each feel strongly about their convictions.

King Leo, who lost his wife to the fire, spent his entire life making sure Ravani was ready for rule by Elena. However, he must now face the possibility that his method was more self serving than intended. Elena loves her father dearly. But now as an adult can see that there is more to leadership than building an army of unthinking followers. Because of this, Elena’s and Leo’s relationship is strained. Leo won’t trust Elena with the truth nor will he approach Elena’s concerns with an open mind. Yassen has the opportunity to free himself of his assassin background, but is he strong enough to resist his fear of their influence? And finally there is Samson, Elena’s betrothed and former assassin whose agenda is both noble and vengeful: free the Sesharians.

The thematic elements in THE PHOENIX KING don’t jump out at me as clearly as in some other books. But I also have a great feeling about the rest of the series and feel there’s a lot of growth in store for the characters. However, one apparent theme is that of fate or destiny. The characters grapple with whether one must stay on their path or veer onto another one. The right path isn’t necessarily the easiest. At some point they face a choice of putting themselves or others first.

Overall I really enjoyed THE PHOENIX KING and I can’t wait for the next installment. It’s a great read for those who appreciate careful layering of characterization in addition to political unrest and maneuvering and a fight to protect a nation.

Rating: 4.25
Content warnings: sexual content, blood, gun violence, death
Reading format: Kindle e-book

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I’ve read several books that blend SF and fantasy and I find it a fascinating mix, especially if it’s done right. This sounds very good, thanks for sharing😁

I’ve seen several great reviews of this one now and am really looking forward to reading it

This looks good! Though I must say the length intimidates me as I already have several books out from the library.