Published by Tor Books Pages: 544
on October 9, 2018
The Phoenix Empress, the sequel to K Arsenault Rivera's wildly buzzed about The Tiger's Daughter, an epic historical fantasy in the vein of Patrick Rothfuss and Naomi Novik.
Since she was a child, the divine empress O Shizuka has believed she was an untouchable god. When her uncle, ruler of the Hokkaran Empire, sends her on a suicide mission as a leader of the Imperial Army, the horrors of war cause her to question everything she knows.
Thousands of miles away, the exiled and cursed warrior Barsalyya Shefali undergoes trials the most superstitious would not believe in order to return to Hokkaran court and claim her rightful place next to O Shizuka.
As the distance between disgraced empress and blighted warrior narrows, a familiar demonic force grows closer to the heart of the empire. Will the two fallen warriors be able to protect their home?
So when I saw The Phoenix Empress on NetGalley I thought it sounded like my cup of tea, so I requested it. When my request approved, I started reading, only to quickly feel lost. I was pretty sure I was missing something. So I looked and sure enough, it was the second book in a trilogy. WHOOPS! I hurriedly purchased the first book, The Tiger’s Daughter, and well anyway, now K Arsenault Rivera owes me two weeks of my life because her books consumed me.
The Bright Ascendancy trilogy is epic fantasy inspired by Japan and Mongolia…
Ok, no, I’m going to stop right there. If The Bright Ascendancy isn’t Legend of the Five Rings fan fiction given a makeover, I will eat my hat.
The setting of these books has so much in common with Rokugan, the Japanese-inspired setting of the L5R card game, roleplaying game, and board games. It’s not just that they’re both Japanese-inspired lands with a much bigger geographical foot print, it’s also the fact that both feature an enemy force of magically tainted people who find themselves compelled to go beyond the wall to serve their dark master. I don’t care if the wall is in the south of Rokugan and in the north of this Empire.
But please don’t take this as a criticism! I enjoy the Legend of the Five Rings roleplaying game and I am 100% here for a queer romance between the Imperial heir and a Unicorn bushi.
These books are incredibly well-paced. The world building is solid — yes, I totally see the L5R influence, and where the author drew from historic cultures in our own world, but she’s also put a lot of work into her own mythology and the history of her world and the politics. The characters are flawed but still relatable. And everything is just so. frickin. epic.
I suspect these books will not work for everyone. They may be a bit too epic and dramatic at times. Also, both books are written switching between a standard narration and a more epistolary style. This works better in the first book than in the second.
But aside from all of this, the important thing for me is that these books are full of badass women. Not only are Shizuka and Shefali powerful female heroes in their own right, but they are each the daughter of the previous generation’s awesome female heroes. This felt so rare to me, to witness strong women who come from a legacy of strong women, and who have to contend with their mothers’ reputations and what their mothers want for them. There’s also the amazing element of strong female friendships, as the mothers themselves were friends, Shizuka and Shefali have a friends to lovers story, and there are other female friendships woven throughout both books.
So often, our badass women have to fight to be respected despite their gender. The Bright Ascendancy gives us a world with a history of women fighters and leaders. Shizuka and Shefali do have to fight to get some respect due to other elements of their heritage or personality, but not because of their gender.
I’ll be impatiently waiting for The Warrior Moon, the proposed final chapter of this trilogy. I hope you’ll be waiting right alongside me.
Thank you to Tor for providing me with an Advanced Reader Copy via NetGalley!