Tuesday 3 September 2013

Phoenix - SF Said

Phoenix by SF Said

Review by M

Phoenix is a soaring space quest story packed full of starry action, adventure, science, myth, colourful characters and wowsome illustrated pages. It’s a compelling and beautiful pageturner.

Phoenix by SF SaidLucky’s world on Phoenix is falling apart: he doesn’t know his dad, he’s lost his mum in more ways than one, he’s carrying some illegal kit while the sky is splitting apart and discovers that unmentionable things are happening to him when he’s asleep and dreaming. All of this happens in the middle of an ongoing inter-celestial battle between the Humans and the enemy Aliens (horn-headed, hoof-footed Axxa). On top of this, Lucky’s off on a quest to find his dad and the best way it seems to do this is to hitch a rocket ride with a bunch of very frightening Aliens. They eat eyeballs, you know! The ride is very bumpy and there are all sorts of deceptions and revelations along the way. There are numerable sad losses too.

Author SF Said writes Lucky’s space quest adventure in engaging and occasionally mesmerising words that are vividly enhanced by pages of beguiling illustrations (thanks to illustrator Dave McKean). As the quest progresses and we learn more about Lucky and his dangerous power, we also learn that there are twelve ‘gods’ who will be unable to save the celestial world from the wolf that eats the stars. A second quest ensues and yes, some aspects of the plot are a bit contrived and coincidental.

12 doublespreads like this depicting the 'gods'/Astraeus
Skirting the action-adventure of the quest and just beneath its shiny but grimy sci-fi surface, the novel explores themes of race, religion, deception, right and wrong, choice, and war. More than anything, Phoenix is a pacifist’s heaven that rings the peace message loudly: war, war is stupid......but very complicated too. Unexpectedly, the novel also injects some deep-seated and properly bittersweet romantic elements too. A satisfying but heartbreaking resolution becomes beautiful and slightly teary.

Overall, this is an exciting story weaving together multiple sub-plots and sub-texts in a way that should make much of it readily accessible to young readers. There are also many plot elements that point towards the potential for numerous allegorical interpretations. Those that sprung to mind for me were many religious stories, particularly the Age of Aquarius, and also Plato’s Allegory of the Cave. There are plenty of shadows and deceptions in Phoenix! Unravelling and linking all these allegorical clues can be a lot of fun for the readers, and even young ones will spot some of these.

For colourful characters, apart from Lucky, my heart was taken by Bixa Quicksilver, an Astral Martial Arts fighter with glowing needles in her hair; a couple of old-wizened Startalkers; and Bazooka, a phoenix.

Unusually, I’d also highly recommend watching the book trailer before reading: it’s just the opening pages of the book being read aloud but it is completely captivating and sets a beautiful, glowing tone to the novel.

Following the navigational quest theme, I don’t need an astronomer nor a mariner’s astrolabe to know that for me, Phoenix is this year’s A Boy anda Bear in a Boat. My hunch is that it will attract a much broader story loving audience, especially among newly confident readers who hunger for the thrills often housed in whopping big tomes.

Publication details: David Fickling Books, August 2013, Oxford, hardback
This copy: received for review from the publisher

This video is made up of the illustrations that appear in the book! Pages and pages of them.....

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