Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Book Review 2012 #7 - Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris' Phoenix Rising

Phoenix Rising by Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris
Published by: Harper Voyager
Publication Date: April 26th, 2011
Format: Paperback, 416 Pages
Rating: ★★★★★
To Buy

Agent Eliza Braun lives for field work. Agent Wellington Books lives for his archives. Both working within The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, a secret agency within Queen Victoria's government, they never have had much time for each other. Eliza was always off on some dangerous mission, hopefully involving dynamite, while Books had his files and artifacts and tea, deep within the bowels of  "Miggins Antiquities." That all changed when one day, Books was Eliza's mission. He had been kidnapped by the enemy and whisked away to a secret base in Antarctica. Eliza arrived guns a blazing and rescued Books, returning the two of them to jolly old England. Only, she didn't follow directions, per se.  Doctor Sound had ordered Wellington to be decommissioned, in the most final way possible, in case he had let any secrets be spilled. Yet Eliza knew that Wellington hadn't been compromised, deep in her bones.

Her penance for such belief in Wellington? Being demoted from field agent to assist him in the archives. Both of them view this as the worst kind of hell imaginable. Wellington doesn't like interlopers in "his" archives. Early morning hours and the complete tedium of filing isn't what Eliza thinks of as a good time either. Though the archives do hold some interest for her... deep within the darkest reaches there are unsolved cases. One of those cases involves her ex partner, Harry. They had been investigating a series of gruesome murders together when Doctor Sound told them to abandon the case. Yet the files indicate that Harry kept working the case secretly, until his disappearance and subsequent reappearance in Bedlam.

Eliza will not let this rest. Slowly she convinces Books that it's in their best interest to continue Harry's investigation. She'll investigate it with or without him, so Books might as well come along. Soon there's buildings blowing up, high speed carriage chases, fights during the opera and secret societies. Working side by side, Books and Braun have to learn to trust each other and believe in their new partner. Yet for Eliza, relying on an agent, untrained in field ops, while being deep undercover could be the riskiest decision she ever made. For Books, leaving the archives was his riskiest decision.

I think I have quite probably found my new favorite series. The mystery, the chemistry, the humor are all perfectly balanced to create one of the best reads out there, Steampunk or otherwise. The polar opposites of toffy, British to the bone, Books and trigger happy, dynamite loving New Zealander Braun can easily go down as one of the best pairings since Mrs. Peel and Steed, Maddy and David, Sam and Diane, Castle and Beckett. They just fuel each other to new levels of ingenuity and snarky, witty banter. They are the chemical equivalent of dynamite, a comparison I know full well Eliza would love. There's a part of me that spent the entire book just hoping they'd get together, and another part of me just loving this long tease... I trust in the writers that everything will be worth my wait and the payoff will be sublime.

Almost a Victorian version of The Avengers, I find that with the artifact nature of many of the investigations, that the book can be favorably compared to one of my favorite series, Warehouse 13. I would not be surprised if at any moment HG Wells popped up and asked for a little help from Books and Braun, creating the best fan fic mash-up of the Victorian Era. Everything about the book just worked. The mystery changes directions many times throughout the lengthy story, yet I enjoyed every minute of the ride and the denouement brought everything back together. The Steampunk elements fit in the story and never once felt out of place or forced, which is a hard thing to do with techno babble. Just wonderful worldbuilding on the parts of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris.

The authors where even able to take a trope that I've come to hate and make it fresh. The Hellfire Club. Anything Victorian or Regency, or really, any time they can in anything slightly period or historical in a British setting, or British Coloney, the Hellfire Club will rear it's head. Heck, they even did it in The Avengers. Yet the Phoenix Society, while having the debauchery of said predecessor, goes beyond just the wanton lust of what came before. They have a secondary agenda too, yet that isn't what made it work. What made the society work was that the way the authors set up the weekend of loose morals was by creating the perfect British Country House weekend and then skewing it. Like a very dark Gosford Park. Personally, I adore mysteries in a Country House setting. Therefore by adding this level of aristocratic sheen and typical behaviour over the atypical club, I never once was raising my fist going, "Damn you Francis Dashwood and your Monks! Damn you to a real, not intentional hell. Devils poking you... oh wait, you'd probably like that."

Also, as is my way, sometimes when reading a book I totally see one actor in my head immediately. Obviously, the agent Bruce Campbell, would be played by Bruce Campbell, that isn't up for negotiation. For Books I was trying to think of someone stuffy, but who could kick ass and be menacing when need be. The obvious choice is Alexis Denisof as Wesley Wyndam-Pryce from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and later Angel. Can't you just picture his stammering and lecturing of Eliza? I sure can!

Here is "Books" in lecture mode, disgruntled lecture mode, hence the tie being loose, when he has had one too many problems with Eliza. Once again trying to explain the taxonomy of the filing and how work starts not near lunch or in the afternoon but in the morning.

Yet, he can totally bring the "dapper" for a night out at the opera to enjoy some Macbeth or to infiltrate a Country House Party that has nefarious undertones.

For Eliza, I wanted someone young and plucky, who looks like they are a little cherubic, until they pull a gun on you. While she is The Doctor's next companion, it was Jenna Louise Coleman's performance in the Titanic miniseries by Julian Fellowes that shows she has Eliza's competence, quick wit and sharp tongue.

Also, she can bring the glam, but that reinforced corset might need some adjustments...

Moste Importante Steampunkery:
While there are many great Steampunk inventions in the book, many designed by Books himself, the prize has to go the Mad McTighe's coin-operated Combobula Bar. Lord McTighe was a gallant nutter who disliked women having to be bar maids because "women shouldna be pawed by drunk patrons!" So he invented the Combobula Bar where you can listen to "Onward Christian Soldiers" while waiting for the machine to mix and serve you drink. Yet what makes this shiny brass-and-wooden bar stand out is that it can somehow sense a bar fight and close in on itself, protecting the machinery, but, more importantly, the booze.


Newer Post Older Post Home