The Phoenix Descent was a story that changed from one genre to another to another partway through. I thought I was reading a space story at first, then a zombie story, then a dystopian government story. Guess that’s my fault for not really reading much about the story before I dove in haha.
It was time well spent reading though. The two protagonists, Sif, and Litsa, were relatable, and up until the very end, the action was very unpredictable. More than once I had to double back and be like “Wait. Did that just happen?!”
The Prologue was very well written. I felt like I was reading something like the beginning of The Last of Us, a video game that I thoroughly enjoyed. Interesting that both of them had zombie-like things come from fungal spores. It definitely made me like the book right off the bat.
Okay, let’s dive in and get all spoiler-y, shall we?
Like I said before, I really liked the book right off the back because of the similarities to The Last of Us. The Riy at their core were not that different from the zombies in that game; they were both fungal based, sent out spores to infect new hosts, had different specialized versions of infected that went out to kill people. Sure, there weren’t any clickers or bloaters, but there were jumpers! And drones are basically almost the same as runners!
So I strapped in for a limited supplies, everyone is dying but I have to murder the Riy somehow kind of world. And we got that with Litsa’s story, as we follow her attempts to keep her tribe safe.
But to juxtapose with that, we also get Sif’s story, naval aviator turned astronaut. We start the story with her and her crew trying to figure out wtf just happened since they thought they’d wake up around Mars, but they didn’t. The playful banter she has with her crewmates helps set the tone for her character, tough and resourceful, with a sense of humor. I pictured her like Starbuck from Battlestar Galactica, honestly.
So the two go on their separate adventures until they finally meet up and Litsa almost kills Sif, and we get to combine the stories huzzah.
Twists and Turns
I honestly thought at the beginning of this book that the two would team up and then somehow find a way to kill the Riy. That seemed to be the obvious place the story was headed. But noooooope!
Burned a Riy hive to get it to leave your tribe alone? Did it successfully with basically no casualties? Sorry, no happiness for you. The Takers have arrived! …and now you’re kidnapped.
But more than that, the Takers are not immediately portrayed as the bad guys. When they first interact with Sif and Hunter, they’re portrayed as the good guys in fact. They’re not doing bad things with the indigenous people that they’re kidnapping; they’re just trying to move them out of the way of the ever expanding Riy. The locals just don’t understand because, well…they’re just not educated enough. A simple misunderstanding, really.
They roll out all the stops for Sif and Hunter, treating them as welcomed guests, and giving them all the comforts of home – military command, clean clothes, food, shelter. Seems like a good setup, right?
Well, not so much. Player 4 has entered the game! Who’s player 4? The Resistance. Fuller risks everything to tell Sif and Hunter what’s really going on behind the scenes and…and…GETS MURDERED FOR IT. I did *not* see that coming! I thought he was going to be protagonist #3. But nope; unceremoniously shot in the head and used as a plot device.
One thing that did rather annoy me was how the author had the characters figure out what was going on in the story before the reader. There are several chapters that fly by while you, the reader, are stuck in never never land, not knowing what the characters obviously know. I imagine it was to build tension, but honestly? It just felt annoying to me.
I will say I kind of saw what turned the Takers from good folks to bad folks coming. The whole “I’ve seen these people before, but I’m not sure why” vibe was just a little bit too large of a hint. Oh well. You have to make the antagonists wholly unlikable somehow if you’re going to murder them all, right? And what better way for that to happen than for them to commit atrocities to keep themselves alive, disgusting the protagonists and you, the reader, in the process.
One thing I really did like though was the way that the final few chapters were written. Once you figure out why the Takers are bad folk, the story progresses very quickly to its climax. The pacing is done very well, underscoring the severity of the events unfolding and just how quickly they’re occurring. Plus, Sif’s banter with Shattuck is comedy gold. It’s like watching a cat play with an evil mouse before she kills it.
But of course, this is a dramatic story and things go wrong. The second that we find out there’s a problem with the navigational computer on the Resolute, I knew what was about to unfold. Of course Sif was going to run a suicide mission.
The chapters describing her descent and Hunter/Lucas/Litsa’s reactions to it were written exceptionally well. I’m not ashamed to admit that I teared up some while reading it.
Honestly, I think the story would have fit better had she not miraculously survived by some deux ex machina at the end, but everyone likes a happy ending, right?
I enjoyed my time reading this book. Aside from the very end, I thought the story was very unpredictable, and honestly, even with the expected twists at the very end, I was still very entertained. The protagonists were relatable and fun to imagine; the pacing was very well done; and most of the book had unexpected events unfold that I did not see coming. Not everything is going to be at the level of The Expanse or Game of Thrones and that’s okay; doesn’t mean they’re not well written or not fun.
I’d recommend reading The Phoenix Descent, and I will probably get The Gemini Effect from Chuck Grossart as well. I like his style.