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Red Phoenix by Kylie Chan

Red Phoenix

Dark Heavens book 2

a review by Nalini Haynes

I’m going to assume you’ve read my review of White Tiger, the first in this trilogy, before launching into this review of Red Phoenix, Dark Heavens book 2. If you haven’t read book one, BE WARNED: when reviewing book 2 I think NOTHING of spoiling book 1. 

Emma continues her martial arts studies, occasionally fighting demons trying to capture or kill her. She starts dreaming that she’s a snake herself and freaks out: is she a demon? Is she a lost Shen or half-Shen? Emma asks various people – repeatedly – to check to see if she’s a demon.

John keeps fighting demons, teaching martial arts and romancing Emma at the risk of draining Emma of all her chi, which would kill her.

Simone is at school, creating a whole new set of security issues.

Leo recruits Michael as a trainee bodyguard; Michael turns out to be half-Shen. Michael is sent to school to learn and protect Simone, much to their mutual disgust. Michael and Simone don’t like each other much, a lot like brother and sister, although I’m deeply suspicious of future entanglement between the two. There is, after all, another trilogy after this one. For which I haven’t even read a teaser yet. [whistles innocently]

The stakes are slowly being ramped up as anticipation builds for John’s inevitable departure that will, eventually, restore his energy and strength as a Shen, leaving the household vulnerable until he returns.

Emma is very shouty; I started to get a virtual headache from all her shouting. Gradually it dawned on me that Emma shouting is almost a euphemism for Emma being emotional; once this hook is in place, it’s then a matter of working out whether she’s angry, bossy or reacting to stirring (teasing).

Emma’s family relationships are explored more in Red Phoenix, including sibling rivalry. I didn’t have patience for the social climbing sister but Emma persevered.

Telling people about the supernatural aspect of the household got old. I’m not sure how much this became a ‘feature’ rather than a ‘bug’ when Emma reflected on John’s boredom with the repetitive nature of these encounters. I also started to get a bit tired of the martial arts training although I could see the gradual increase in abilities later used in warfare, so Chan definitely didn’t cheat. I’ve read nearly all three books in only a few days while working on a related assignment for university; if I’d read them over a few weeks I probably wouldn’t complain about this repetition.

However, one gripe that never goes away is continuity errors. There are a few. Not major plot-shattering errors but… John lost his serpent that is half his essence; no-one knows how or why but it went missing. In 1978, in 1975, after he’d had sex with Michelle much later than that…

Issues with the seals are annoying: ‘No-one can get through the seals’ inevitably leads to ‘The seals have been blown.’ Aargh. What the seals do seems to change a bit too: they either keep all the demons out or only allow one in at a time. But hey – the demons can blow the seals so why bother? And why let demons in when they’re going to blow the seals? Why not take them somewhere else? I’m tired and cranky. You can tell. I just want a ‘canon’ explanation, please.

I still love this trilogy. Because MONKEY (see my review for book 1). And Emma and Leo pranking each other. And Bai Hu, the Tiger. And Na Zha with his chariot of fire. And Michael of whom I expect great and naughty things. And…

I believe Kylie Chan has kept faith with the original mythology; she’s definitely done extensive research as well as living in Hong Kong for years. I may gripe over trivialities but Dark Heavens won me over by seeming like a sequel to Monkey, one of my favourite TV series from when I was about 12 and a talking point for my father and me when I was in matric (senior high school). As an author you almost get a free pass if you tap into that level of nostalgia. Not that Kylie needs a free pass, I’m enjoying this trilogy for its own sake. Kylie’s writing also improves over the course of these three books; I’m very interested to read the next trilogy.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have about a quarter of the last book to finish…

The copy I’m reviewing is actually this trilogy-in-one-book:

Dark Heavens

Nalini is an award-winning writer and artist as well as managing editor of Dark Matter Zine.


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