Book Review: PHOENIX FLAME by Sara Holland

Title in blue on a burning orange castle
Genre: Fantasy
Age Range: YA
Star Rating: 4 stars
Series: yes - second book in duology

*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for HAVENFALL*

Synopsis:

Book cover for PHOENIX FLAME: title in blue on the burning outline of a girl

Maddie thought her problems were over. She saved the Inn at Havenfall—a sanctuary between magical worlds—from the evil Silver Prince. Her uncle the Innkeeper is recovering from a mysterious spell that left him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks of summer left to spend with her more-than-friend Brekken.

But there’s more work to be done to protect the Inn—Maddie must put an end to the black-market trading of magical objects and open the Inn’s doors to the once feared land of shapeshifters.

As she tries to accomplish both seemingly impossible tasks, Maddie uncovers secrets that could change everything. What if saving everyone means destroying the only home she’s known?

Synopsis taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.


Review:

HAVENFALL is a duology that sits between contemporary fantasy and portal fantasy. I’m not generally a big fan of contemporary fantasy, but given most of the on-Earth stuff happens in the inn, it doesn’t feel like a contemporary, as the world is an inn and a small town so isolated that it could almost be in another world.

Even better, in PHOENIX FLAME, the portal fantasy aspect is realised, rather than just talking about the other realms. Instead, we get to follow Maddie through one of the doors into winter wonderland Fiordenkill. I’d been wanting to see another world since the first book introduced the idea. It would have been a real let down to talk about these magical realms and NOT visit any of them. The focus is still Earth, but the inclusion of Fiordenkill helped shake things up a bit.

This is an incredibly short book – less than 250 pages – and it does feel like there’s a lot left unresolved at the end, particularly the soul trade, which is the driver behind at least the first half of the book. The focus shifts in the second half, and even though major players are removed, there’s a trial and a network to first of all uncover (let alone dismantle), which leaves the book feeling like it hasn’t properly ended. It might have been a bit more satisfying to see the said trial and get at least a sense of closure, that it’s not just one family frantically trying to hold back the tide.

This said, there is quite a lot still happening in the book, despite the low number of pages. Yes, some major things happen off page and are explained in a few lines, plus one of the characters doesn’t have enough set up for his actions to feel like they have any weight – just flipflopping about – but by and large the pacing is decent. It’s a short, easy to read book that can be devoured in one sitting. The overall sequence of events feels like it’s designed to be read fast, without needing the time to digest what just happened (and question some things a bit too deeply).

The romance doesn’t get tied up in a nice little bow, but is still messy and resolved at the end, which was nice. It just felt more realistic for these teens, who’ve been through a lot that’s altered their world views and shaken their trust in a variety of people, to not be all happily together, but still have jagged edges and issues to work through.


Read my reviews of other books by Sara Holland:

Havenfall (this series):

Everless:

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