The Best Shall Rise
New San Francisco is the last city standing on a world ravaged by storms of ash and debris. The city survived by putting the ideals of the American dream on steroids and inspiring its people to persevere, though they have become ruthless in the process. Its citizens are ruled by the General, who has made sure that his people understand that gentleness and pity have become weaknesses that nature no longer tolerates.
Now Steve and Leslie must choose whether they will apply for the General’s once in a lifetime opportunity to “Rise from the Ashes” and join the Inner Circle that rules the city. If they don’t, they will be damned to spend the rest of their lives in the ghettos of Edingburg, a place where virtual reality has become a government-subsidized addiction.
For Steve, the choice is easy. His loyalties lie with the IRA, a revolutionary army led by a voice only known as “Mom.” They are trying to overthrow the General and free the people of New San Francisco from the cruelties of the City Guard. Steve’s mission is to broadcast a recording of a speech that a famous philosopher died to tell. Many thousands have and will perish to get this message out, but is anyone willing to listen?
Genre: YA Dystopia
Publisher: The Department of Smoke
I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review.
The Phoenix Cycle is a perplexing blend of dystopia and philosophy, set in a world where the only city left standing is only vaguely functional because of its intense propagation of the American Dream. I found myself drawn in by the premise (and the author’s promise that the main characters were rooted in philosophical theory) despite knowing, deep down, that the last thing I really needed was another story of ashen futures and tyrannical governments in my life. I’m from South Africa; we live a duller version of a typical YA dystopian novel on the daily (minus the cool stuff, and with less capable authoritarian powers).
In all honesty, The Phoenix Cycle reads more like a Hunger Games-inspired fever dream than the 1984-esque approach it seems to be going for. Despite trying its best to put a new spin on a genre that’s definitely lost a lot of crowd-support in the YA community, I can’t say I found it particularly original or interesting. But let’s be fair here; there’re only so many ways you can write the future, only so many ways you can make the world seem as dismal and bleak as possible, so dystopia stopped being original a while ago. The philosophical grounding was a good twist, and although it wasn’t really my thing, I’m sure there’re a bunch of people out there that’ll have a ball searching for parallels between the main characters and, I don’t know, Jung? (I really have no idea what I’m talking about when it comes to this stuff, seriously.)
Collopy’s writing shows a lot of promise, but unfortunately it just didn’t hit the mark for me. I found the characters dull and two-dimensional, and as a result I felt totally apathetic towards the story as a whole. It didn’t help that the dialogue tended to be rough and stilted at times, which gave the impression that the people of NSF were almost robotic. In terms of plot, The Phoenix Cycle is redeemable. Although the story wandered a bit too much for my liking, it gained a stronger sense of direction as it went along.
Dystopia is a weird genre, because it’s obviously not real, but at the same time it has to maintain a minimal degree of reality otherwise it’s impossible to make your readers care. Where I felt that The Phoenix Cycle really lost me was in its world building, particularly its cogency. It wasn’t that I found it difficult to believe that the world could be shrouded in ash, but rather the lack of explanation that the author provided for essential elements of the setting. I can only assume that Collopy wanted to avoid boring his readers with long, lazy expositional paragraphs, but there’s a fine line between cutting information unnecessary to the direct situation of the characters and leaving your readers completely in the dark. (However, it looks like in the edition being released today, a lot of these core issues have been addressed and resolved wonderfully.)
I can’t say that I thoroughly enjoyed The Phoenix Cycle, but I definitely didn’t hate it. (Most of the nitpicks expressed above are a direct result of the fact that I’ve written about six literary essays this week; I’m in a really critical mode. Also, I hate fun, clearly.) Apparently the novel hitting the shelves today is a re-worked version of a book that was released back in 2014. Not only that, but Collopy’s been taking criticism from ARC reviews and has been editing up a storm. Because he’s clearly put a lot – a lot – of work into this story, and because the copy being released in print may be drastically different from the version I received a couple of months ago, I won’t discourage anyone from reading it. In fact, I’d recommend giving it a try if you’re feeling nostalgic about The 5th Wave or The Hunger Games.