Fantasy, YA, Romance
Bloomsbury YA; March 2, 2021
320 pages (ebook)
3.5 / 5 ✪
I was kindly provided with a review copy in exchange for an honest review. This in no way alters or affects my opinion. Many thanks to Bloomsbury Young Adult and NetGalley for the ARC! All opinions are my own.
In many ways, Phoenix Flame manages to improve upon the mistakes made by its predecessor, shaping up both the interactions and the character development, while also maintaining the elements that I most enjoyed. Namely (somehow) the romance.
It was quite a summer for Maddie Morrow. After taking over temporary management of the Inn at Havenfall, she was able to disrupt the soul trade, humanize the Solarians, and prevent a coup. Now, with Marcus awake and back in charge, Maddie has been demoted back to #2—an move that she was equal parts crushed and relieved by. Yet with her uncle still recovering, her input is now more important than ever before. And she must do what’s best for Havenfall—no matter the cost.
And yet it’s a price she may not be willing to pay. After all, Maddie is in love with a Fiorden soldier. Mostly. There was a certain girl that made her heart skip a beat…—but she’s gone, locked away behind the Solarian gate. And Brekken is at Havenfall. Brekken, the boy that Maddie grew up and played with. Brekken, the boy that has become a man, one whom has expressed his interest in being with her. If the Inn falls between her and Brekken, what will Maddie do?
But more pressing concerns highlight the end of Maddie’s summer. The black-market trade of soul-bound silver has been disrupted, but is far from over. But now she has a lead on the illicit trade network, one that requires her to go undercover inside Fiordenkill, a winter wonderland that she’s always wanted to visit. But this visit will be rife with danger—despite the presence of a particularly distracting soldier—and Maddie must use all her cunning if she’s to end the trade, once and for all.
Too bad Maddie doesn’t have any cunning.
Seriously, it might’ve been a more interesting read if Maddie was a bit brighter, a bit more cunning, a bit darker, a bit more riské. But she’s not, and that’s that. But she’s still a teenager—young, immature, immortality-complex, dumb, all the realistic stuff. Phoenix Flame highlights a coming-of-age series, and part of growing up is learning to fail and overcome your mistakes. And Maddie makes a lot of mistakes. And that’s fine.
The story is a decent enough adventure; containing enough twists and turns to keep it interesting, yet it never blew me away or surprised me with its choices. As I’ve said before, Maddie’s maybe not the best narrator, but she’s what we’ve got, and tells the story well enough. I enjoyed the glimpses we got of Fiordenkill, but ultimately found them too few and lacking in any interesting detail. Literally all I can remember now is that the land was snowy and cold—the description and world-building really could’ve delivered more of a punch.
The magic system of Havenfall is… a letdown. To be honest, I forgot that magic was a thing for a great portion of the text, only for Maddie to use it once near the end and immediately drop the subject. I remember in the first book how she discovers her ability and uses it to overcome the Silver Prince. It was a surprise and a joy to her. Not so much in Phoenix Flame. No “she practiced to improve her skill” or “she still marveled in her use of magic”. Not even “oh, she had magic, too”. It’s just not mentioned. As for what and how it works… I dunno. That’s never explained, either. It’s just another missing piece in what could’ve turned out to be a great story.
The romance continues to be the main draw of the series, a phrase that continues to baffle me. Young love burns bright—and Maddie’s love life is achingly familiar, in an awkward teenage sort of way. It reminded me of my first love: the prickle of heat surrounding every stolen moment; the burning embarrassment of pretty much anything else; the indecision, the constant turmoil of emotions, the lack of anything approaching experience akin to being tossed in the ocean with a tiger strapped to your chest. Instead of the gawky, awkward, cringey, will-they won’t-they of normal YA romances, so far Sara Holland has managed to capture the nostalgia that comes with your first crush, your first love (at least, for me). There’s still plenty of awkwardness, but it’s all on a learning curve. And both Brekken and Taya create plenty of opportunities to learn, though each in different ways.
Phoenix Flame is the second book in the Havenfall series, and manages to build on the relative successes of Havenfall, while simultaneously correcting some of its mistakes. The story is solid but won’t blow you away with its inventiveness. The plot is interesting, with a few twists and turns and decent character development. The world-building and description continues to leave something to be desired, and the whole fantasy aspect of this fantasy book needs some serious work. As in Book #1, the main allure of Phoenix Flame lies in its romance. A bundle of emotions and no idea what to do with them made me nostalgic for my youth—but unlike the cringe-worthy, awkward, fumbling experience I’m used to seeing in YA lit, this provided something more thoughtful, more delicate, more unique. And I’m completely surprised that I continue to recommend this serious for its romance. While the story and description and characters still could use some improvement—young love continues to impress.