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The Phoenix Empress, by K Arsenault Rivera

Review copy provided by Tor Books.

This is the second volume in its series, and you really should not start here. It’s structurally interesting in that it’s like the opposite of a romance novel: the central couple has already gotten together, and the question is can they stay that way, what will happen within their established relationship.

It’s the kind of setting and scope where “what will happen within their relationship” includes possibilities like one of them becoming a rampaging undead monster, or mismanaging an empire into ruin, or…there’s a lot of scope, is what I’m saying here. Continents and lifetimes, not just of the main characters but of thousands upon thousands of bystanders.

The setting is Asian inspired, with different regions not quite standing in for the Mongol steppes, China, Japan, and other real-world analogues. The feeling of vastness that I get from reading nonfiction about China through time is not there. This is a much more contained space to play in. On the other hand, the central couple I’m talking about in this plot is a lesbian couple, so some kinds of space are more expansive than would be traditional–and this is the kind of relationship story where people are actually living with the realities of their decisions, not a coming out story or a “first flush of love and that’s it” story. This is the story of the complexities of an ongoing relationship. Complete with zombie-equivalents and apparent gods and family dynamics. If you don’t like big fat fantasies at all, you probably won’t like this one, but if you’ve been waiting for sprawling epics that happen to center two women–plus a large cast of supporting characters who are not all or even mostly men–you’ve come to the right place.

Please consider using our link to buy The Phoenix Empress from Amazon. Or start at the beginning with The Tiger’s Daughter.

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