When a spell saves her life by sending her to her mother's homeland, Estyria finds herself in a world she'd believed to exist solely in bedtime stories – a realm where gods walk the earth, magic is real, and political intrigue strikes close and hard.
As Scion to a noble House and caught in a competition for the throne, she has mere weeks to learn to navigate the murky waters of court and tangled loyalties.
More than a crown and the well-being of a country is at stake. Two men are bound to her by destiny and their fates depend upon her choices. Sethalor, who holds secrets and memories lost to her, vows to defy the very gods to keep her safe. Aedrian, who agreed to protect her out of love for his prince, but comes to see in her a ruler he would give his soul to protect.
Through assassinations, poison and shifting alliances, can Estyria keep the realm, her heart and the people she loves safe?
I found this book by accident. I follow author Jeannie Lin on twitter (amongst other places), and she tweeted about finding this book thanks to the author tweeting about Lin's book (we're going deep here guys). Now anyone who knows me knows of my love of asian dramas, in particular the sub genre known as "wuxia"...or honestly any asian drama that involves gorgeous clothes, historical time period and at least ONE kick ass chick who slaps around the male love interest. I blame Michelle Yeoh for this by the way.
As the author notes PHOENIX CHOSEN is not a wuxia - this isn't a martial arts fantasy. This is straight up fantasy. Which hey not complaining about that at all. In terms of comparison this is more akin to Juuni Kokki (or The Twelve Kingdoms) in that it focuses on a young girl, tossed into the political intrigue and violence of a Kingdom searching for its leader, who previously was (at best) mediocre at all things. Through quick wits, a touch of recklessness and some damn loyal compatriots, things sort of kind of work out in her favor.
If you blink and look sideways. There will be more books soooo we'll see how long that works out for Estyria.
Estyria, affectionately known as Phoenix, is having a rough run of luck. Her life is pretty aimless, her love life is non-existent and she just got hit by a mini van...who's driver sped away pretty quickly. She awakens to a world straight out of some Chinese drama, next to a guy who she doesn't know and soon falls unconscious after another guy threatens her life.
All in all its not what you'd call a stellar first impression of things.
Really she takes things very well considering. Once its all laid out to her she becomes pretty determined and while she holds it against Sethalor and Aedrian, that's hardly her fault. One seems to alternately despise her and be attracted to her, while the other definitely is attracted to her, but is almost resentful that she can't remember what they may mean to each other. And that's before she decides to take on the only option she has to get home, which is to enter into candidacy for the throne of a land that exiled her family.
In the beginning there's a lot of confusion as Estyria attempts to navigate everything. The position her grandparents hold requires a lot of etiquette and very careful consideration of everything she says or does. Regardless of her parents' exile, Estyria is now bound to the traditions and sanctions of the land and as such needs to learn real quick how to fit in. This isn't without its own troubles; Sethalor and Aedrian prove to be hard to decipher, while she doesn't entirely want to trust the grandparents who seem content to let their daughter be tossed out. Not to mention her own trust issues spilling over from a trauma in her past that she hints at, but doesn't want to examine.
Sethalor, or Seth, is everything that is respectable, refined and elegant. He's nominally in charge until a new ruler is chosen (by Heaven), but he hates the court and everything it has taken from him. He's adept at keeping his emotions in check, but at the same time he's reckless when those he cares about (Aedrian or Esytria) are in trouble. I got a bit tired at his wounded lover looks towards Estyria though, as several characters point out its not helping anyone so he needed to focus more on the present.
Aedrian. Oh Aedrian. Let me just hug away all your troubles dear one. He's brash, aggressive and blunt to the point of insolence at times. His own mixed up feelings for Seth tend to make him act first, so when he restrains himself its impressive. He starts out the story extremely hostile and antagonist towards everyone except Seth which doesn't really change by the end (now that I think about it). BUT as the story unfolds its becomes obvious that these two have faced a lot together so maybe its justified.
In terms of world building--its lush and beautiful and detailed. Some of it is really complicated (I'm still a bit loosey-goosey about the political climate and how it connects to our world) and some of it I think will be expanded upon in the next book, since much of the background took back seat to the current problems at hand (ie: saving the land from starving and thus being invaded). What I liked was that while if the reader was well versed in asian culture(s) there's a lot to take away from the story, if they're not Xia does a wonderful job examining and explaining the culture without ever dropping heavy pieces of info-dumping.
I've already blathered on a lot longer then I meant to, but the bottom line is that I can't recommend this loudly enough. For fantasy fans looking for something not anglo-influenced, for fans of political intrigue or readers who enjoy watching a female main character take charge of her fate, this is perfect.