Book Review: Phoenix in the Ashes by Joan D. Vinge

Phoenix in the AshesPhoenix in the Ashes by Joan D. Vinge
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I admit, I picked up this book because I heard there was a Cat / Alien Blood story in it that I had not read. Cat is one of my favourite characters, a love from my youth. I first encountered Cat when I read the YA version of Psion as a nominee for the Children’s Choice Awards, and I ate it up. Imagine my delight when, as a teenager, I discovered there was another book, Catspaw; then later as a young adult when I discovered there was a third book, Dreamfall! This whole series has been like that for me!

The story is called “Psiren,” and it’s Cat 1.5, taking place between the events of Psion and Catspaw. And it was awesome. Cat is still my favourite, and it filled in a lot of missing gaps in the storyline that I had wondered at (though I want to assure the reader that it’s not like things didn’t make sense, it’s just that I felt at the time that some character stuff had been left out – and I was right!)

I also really enjoyed the poignant, rare fantasy story called “The Storm King” that Vinge included, with its lovely message of being careful what you wish for. It has all the beauty and mystery of her The Snow Queen series.

The rest of the stories, honestly, were kind of meh.

One was a story about a superstitiously opposed-to-technology community who encounters a helicopter pilot after a nuclear war, which had some promise and passion, and it was basically a Western romance, which I liked, but it wasn’t spectacular.

One was a largely pointless story about some random Martian ruin that was mind-controlling two people to blow it up so that humanity wouldn’t obtain its secrets, but I don’t understand why it did so when the people had already been on Mars for quite some time, and it didn’t even work out right.

One was a story about a “magic peddler” who was using high technology no longer available to most of humanity, that was mostly remarkable for the fact that it’s a classic fantasy trope told entirely with science fictional explanations, like Anne McCaffrey‘s Pern series.

And one was a good story (that’s the novella at the end, called “Mother and Child”) that isn’t at all what it seems, and is a bit like a Gene Wolfe story I read combined with Octavia E. Butler‘s Imago. Good, but not spectacular.

So all in all, I have to give this book a 3 star rating overall. Still worth your time, but maybe not worth running to the store to grab (unless you’re a Cat fan, like me.)

View all my reviews

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