“Mind of the Phoenix” by Jamie McLachlan

Another NetGalley read — I managed to sneak some time away from my Old Irish essay to give you this review so that you weren’t merely greeted by an apology this morning. I may well drop down to one review a week during term time; I’ll see how much I can do. So if you see a reduction in posts, that’s why.

This cover is GORGEOUS.

This cover is GORGEOUS.

This was an interesting read: it’s a complex murder mystery with an element of the supernatural, given the existence of empaths within this world. As well as lies and deception, we’re dealing with mind control, memory blocks, and manipulation. That wasn’t meant to alliterate, but it did. Nice.

Ultimately, it’s the story of a girl for whom things have gone terribly wrong — she’s in prison awaiting execution after she killed her former master — getting a chance to redeem herself. She’s had a fairly rubbish start in life, and these circumstances have led her to become somebody most people don’t like. Nor does she particularly seem to like it, although she’s learned to use it.

In some ways, Moira reminded me a little of Celaena from Throne of Glass, but in circumstances, she’s a lot more like Lysandra. Anyway. It’s not a major similarity, it’s not like they’re carbon copies — they’re just girls with messed up pasts who like tasty food, sarcasm, and tormenting the men around them. Heh.

People are getting murdered through mind control (whether driving them to commit suicide or making someone else stab them), and since Moira’s an empath with special skills, she’s given a chance to avoid execution by helping with the investigation. This leads to her encounter with a detective … and it goes from there. Of course it does. Romance is inevitable, right?

Things I liked:

  • The way empaths’ gifts work, particularly the idea of minds having an inner landscape. Now I want to know what mine would look like, and what memories I might be hiding behind locked doors.
  • The slow development of the relationships in this book, although it didn’t quite sneak past my anti-romance filter. Sorry. Not adorable enough and definitely not queer enough to manage that.
  • Moira’s sarcasm and wit

Things I didn’t like:

  • I was really confused by the setting. I eventually figured out it was an alternate version of our world in the early 1900s, at least I think so, but it took me half the book to manage it. There wasn’t quite enough emphasis on the setting, and I was baffled as to how Biblical references existed in the same world as empaths and the other unique aspects of the worldbuilding.
  • The writing style was a little annoying, as there was some confusion of tenses, but I mostly didn’t notice it when I was engrossed in the book. Which I was, at times. Sometimes Moira’s thoughts dragged on, so while I couldn’t pinpoint where she was repeating herself, I grew impatient.
  • The heteronormativity — it’s no worse than in most books, but with Moira’s history as a concubine, you’d think she’d be more open-minded about the idea that not every guy is interested in her sexually. When you know about her past, you can understand some of what she’s thinking, but at times it frustrated me.

The plot’s fairly complex, though I did guess one of the twists. It doesn’t entirely resolve: I believe it’s a series, and this is book one, so the main mystery that’s set out here doesn’t get solved by the end of the book, but another one does. At the same time, it was a little bit annoying to get to the end and realise we still didn’t know who the Phoenix was.

I definitely think the setting, particularly the time period, needed more development. I had no idea when it started that it was meant to be in a version of our world, and I think that was a weakness, because it pulled me out of the story in places.

There’s also quite a lot of sexual violence, which is understandable given Moira’s past and whatever, but I’m just mentioning it here for my readers and followers who might find that sort of thing difficult to read.

On the whole, though, it was engaging enough, and I read the whole thing when I was meant to be working on an Old Irish essay, so it definitely worked as some escapism.

Rating: ***

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