Phoenix Extravagant is a book that's been on my wish list for a while. Dragons. Art. Revolution. That there's enough to sell it to me.
The story follows Gyen Jebi, an artist who just wants to paint. One day they're jobless, the next Jebi is recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint mystical sigils that animate the government's automation soldiers, including a dragon called Arazi. Discovering how they get the magical pigments and the depths of the Razaneri governments crimes leads Jebi to steal Arazi and how he can help fighting back against the regime.
It's a lot to go through, but falling for the woman who killed your sister-in-law is a great way to add more complications. Before that though, it's a rough time getting to know Jebi as they aren't exactly likeable as they're judgemental and lie to their sister, with their only care being their art and getting to earn a living with it. They're selfish and a coward. As the book progresses though you end up liking Jebi a lot. They're not interested in fighting, they're not a hero and lay their fears out for all to see. You find that they genuinely care for some people and hate being the cause of any pain. They are full of internal anguish but with a real passion for art that trumps most things. Jebi is most certainly not a hero and it's because of that and all the internal anguish that you end up liking Jebi.
The setting is East Asian and from a bit of research seems to be inspired by Korea during Japans occupation. Other than the names of the places though, it could be anywhere in the East, as noted by referring to other countries as Westerners. A lot is left unsaid though, which isn't a problem as you can gather information about the culture, magic, automations and a bit of history based on what is talked about between characters or Jebi's internal thoughts. There's so much to this world that if you'd been given all the information about it upfront, you'd be lost in remembering half of it. Learning more as you go through situations or feelings really draws you into the world better.
Once you get into Jebi working with the Ministry of Armor, the book is hard to put down. There's a ton of plot twists and surprises that are always pleasant and engaging. Some moments could easily have been a book ender leading into a second, but there's no second book here. Around the halfway point the pace picks up again and maintains a fast pace for long periods.
The side characters are not rounded out much but you get enough to know whether you like them or not. This is Jebi's story so everyone else is a side character and what you know about them is all from either Jebi's thoughts or from their conversations with Jebi. It's enough to know who is the bad guys and who is a questionable bad guy - ruler of a revolutionary faction doesn't mean they have the morals of a saint!
For the first few chapters, I thought I was going to be disappointed. Jebi really doesn't come across as likeable which is a problem when they're the main character. Stick with it though and the flaws that you disliked them for become worth it. They don't change, but your perception of them does.
PHOENIX EXTRAVAGANT is a book that I thoroughly enjoyed. It gave me everything I wanted. Sure, there are questions, but I'm totally fine not having the answers because the journey was exciting and at times nerve-racking as you wonder what is going to go wrong next. It was a real pleasure to read, so a massive thanks to Rebellion for the review copy. It's worthy of a perfect 5/5 and I'll definitely read it again some time.