Two twins with extraordinary powers are separated at seven, and each thinks the other is dead. Their village is destroyed and buried by their uncle, who brings down a mountain in order to stop a great evil. Rise of the Phoenix, by R.F. Barlow, starts off in a very stereotypical epic-fantasy way.
The general story in this volume is interesting and kept my interest all the way through. There are a lot of plots woven together to create the overall narrative, and only some of them are resolved in this first book in The Children of the Firstborn series. Even more are introduced, so I think this series may go on for a while.
The world in which the story happens is interesting. There is a fair amount of backstory which pops up here and there to bring a history and depth to the world of Rise of the Phoenix. Even though the backstory is obviously there, I would have liked a little more history to flesh things out a bit more, perhaps by interspersing the main story with a little bit of backstory on a regular basis. Perhaps in future volumes.
The magic system is creative and not the standard Dungeons & Dragons derivative, so that was refreshing. I always enjoy reading a good fantasy which uses a unique and interesting magic system. It will be interesting to see how the magic system is fully fleshed-out as it only began to be explained in any depth in the last 100 pages or so.
Many of the characters seemed too contrived or convenient at times, however, with stereotypical halfling thieves, powerful kings and royalty who feel the need to put everyone in their proper place, and odd choices by some of the characters that seemed at odds with how a real person would act. The pacing had the same issue in several spots, where it just felt wrong or ever-so-slightly-off but hard to pin down exactly why it wasn’t working.
Most of the secondary characters seemed to be more cardboard cutouts than real people, and there are not one but two amazingly talented heroes who pick up new skills and abilities as if they were just on a shelf next to them. Even many of the flaws seemed that way: straight off the shelf. Still, there are several whom I’d like to get to know better, so that speaks well for the author’s storytelling.
To be fair, Rise of the Phoenix is Barlow’s first published novel (as far as I can tell), and there is definite talent in the telling of the tale. Despite the weaknesses, I still found the story to be generally engaging. I look forward to seeing more of the story when the next volumes come out.
Release Date: July 26, 2015 (USA)
ISBNs: 1515224929 (9781515224921)
Alcohol/Drugs: 1 (very brief mentions)
Violence: 2 (swordfighting, magical attacks, some brutal violence, death)