Review: Phoenix Extravagant, Yoon Ha Lee

Rating: 3 out of 5

Mr Lee’s other work impressed me quite a bit. In comparison, this title was relatively boring: the fictional world of Hraguk was not really different from what Korea was and this connection could be made in seconds, even by someone not familiar with Korea. At the same time, there’s also a ferocious island nation close by and while the similarities with Japan are not as one-on-one as in the works of some other authors, it’s still relatively unimaginative.

One of the main reasons I was hoping to enjoy this was that I was promised a dragon. This dragon really was quite good, though I felt the author didn’t live up to his end because the dragon spent so little time communicating with other people. Especially from someone who can talk to people directly in their minds, I’d expect more than just an occasional ‘hello’. This is especially relevant as there were many times when the dragon could have passed really important information down to Jebi, our main character.

Speaking of Jebi, I was disappointed in them. It was interesting to focus on an artist, but Jebi as a person was all over the place, being appallingly contradictory. It’s very good to have a main character who is not the best wizard-mage-warrior in the world, but Jebi didn’t know their place in any situation. Jebi also didn’t seem to learn anything throughout the book, making them a very poor character model. Thus, even at the end of the book, Jebi complained about the same stuff they were complaining about at the start—there was no journey, there was no destination.

I also found Jebi’s persona difficult to understand. The use of the pronoun “they” for Jebi seemed to be a whimsical decision by the author; the book did not describe this choice nor did it explain Jebi’s preferences. As a book is a method of passing information on, this could have been a thrilling point to expand on this subject—after all, no matter what gender, race, or age an author chooses for their characters, this is because of some reason—but this opportunity was not used. For me, this was a lost opportunity to learn about something that I don’t understand.

Jebi’s relationship to Vei could also have used some work. As she was meant to be the second main character, more time with her would have been very good. Instead, Vei features in a few sections, and suddenly she and Jebi are together. This was much too convenient without a convincing pathway being built for this relationship to flourish.

If this series continues, it will probably do so without me: the bad outnumbers the good, and the really interesting part of this book—the dragon—didn’t live up to its potential.

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