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Phoenix Extravagant

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Dragons. Art. Revolution.

Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.

One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.

But when Jebi discovers the depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes—and the awful source of the magical pigments they use—they find they can no longer stay out of politics.

What they can do is steal Arazi, the ministry’s mighty dragon automaton, and find a way to fight…

346 pages, Hardcover

First published October 15, 2020

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About the author

Yoon Ha Lee

173 books1,846 followers
Yoon Ha Lee is an American science fiction writer born on January 26, 1979 in Houston, Texas. His first published story, “The Hundredth Question,” appeared in Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1999; since then, over two dozen further stories have appeared. He lives in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 606 reviews
Profile Image for Melissa ♥ Dog/Wolf Lover ♥ Martin.
3,406 reviews9,538 followers
July 13, 2020
I wanted to read this book because of the mechanical dragon (Arazi). Unfortunately, we didn’t get to the dragon parts until almost 40%. But after that, it was pretty much ongoing. I loved Arazi so much!

I enjoyed some of the characters but wasn’t pulled in by anyone really. I did love Jebi and some others but I still wasn’t totally pulled into the story. I also got confused a lot as Jebi was either, Jebi or they. I have read a few books like that and it was fine but this one was a bit more confusing as it was used a lot around other people and I thought a small group was always going to do something when it was just Jebi.

Either way, I loved Arazi and Jebi the most and I did feel sad when some people died. I do recommend you read this yourself and make up your own damn mind 😉

Mel 🖤🐶🐺🐾

*Thank you to Netgalley and Solaris for providing me with a digital copy for review.

BLOG: https://melissa413readsalot.blogspot....
Profile Image for Acqua.
536 reviews188 followers
September 30, 2020
Sometimes a worldbuilding is as steampunk as it is folktale, and sometimes a family is an obstinate non-binary artist, a prime duelist and a philosophical mecha dragon, and isn't that just perfect?

Phoenix Extravagant is the story of Gyen Jebi, an artist married to their profession (read: kind of... oblivious about anything that isn't art) as they get caught in the middle of political machinations involving a revolutionary movement in Hwaguk, a fantasy country heavily inspired by Korea under Japanese occupation.

The main character of this book isn't a genius. They aren't good at manipulation or even that charming; they aren't the type of larger-than-life character that leaps off the page like in Machineries of Empire, because this isn't a space opera. This is deliberately a story about a very ordinary person, one good at painting but not a prodigy, who is caught in a place where they're way out of their depth. The book never lets them forget that, and neither do the characters, in a myriad of ways that vary from "subtle" to "outright laughing in Jebi's face because [character] couldn't believe they could be so dense".
I don't have a problem with that. I may prefer to read about really competent people because many things are more fun that way, yes. I also know that it's easy, as a reader, to say "well that wasn't smart", but would have I, another ordinary person who would be out of their depth, made better decisions in that situation? No, probably worse. I just need the book not to try to pass it as smart, you know?

And Jebi grew on me. I didn't feel strongly about them at first, but something about their sometimes misplaced obstinacy, their ordinary nature paired with odd artist habits, the way they trusted too easily and were paranoid at less rational moments... I ended up really liking them, and it was probably the "must absolutely paint with mud" scene that made it for me.
I also loved the romance, because it appealed to me on so many levels (...characters who grow close physically first and then learn to trust each other? Yes. Also that sex scene.) and because I, too, would be really into the beautiful woman who is the enemy prime duelist.
The romance is far from the only important relationship in the book; there's a really complicated sibling relationship at the heart of this, tense and with a lot of conflict but also love.
And if you love animal companion stories, you probably really want to read this. My favorite character was Arazi, whom you see on the cover. Mechanical dragon-shaped war machine outside, true pacifist dragon inside!

And when I say "true dragon", I mean that this involves aspects and details involving legends and creatures who come from them. There's a reason this is completely fantasy and not steampunk alt-history.

About the worldbuilding, I always come back to how much I love the way Yoon Ha Lee incorporates queerness into his books. Here, polyamory, same-gender relationship and non-binary people (called geu-ae) are varying degrees of normal, from "not even remarked upon" to "our colonizers see this as odd but who cares". And it goes far beyond a superficial level, involving even small details like cues certain more marginalized groups use to recognize each other (haircuts) to even the very deliberate way the sex scene is written. Queerness is woven into the fabric of this world, it isn't an afterthought.
The magic system was really unique, perfect for the story, and horrifying on several levels, being . That was one in a series of ugly surprises.

Phoenix Extravagant deals with many aspects of living in a colonized country, from the forced assimilation barely disguised as modernization to the way the history and art of the colonized people is systematically hidden, stolen, and sometimes destroyed. It talks about food, languages, accents, and especially names; the name change Jebi goes through at the beginning seems such an easy choice to make at first, one with little cost, but it turns out not to be at all. Names have power even when that power isn't literal.
It also talks about art in the context of different philosophies between the Hwagin and the Razanei, and between both of them and the Western world, which I found really interesting to read.
And about war. I already know the ending is going to be polarizing for a lot of people but I loved it deeply, both for what it was and for what it said.

Did I love this as much as my favorite series, Machineries of Empire? No. I don't see it as a full five stars, more like a 4.5, and there were a few things I didn't like about it:
↬ this book feels the need to state the obvious at times. I wonder how much that has to do with the other series' reception, and I wonder how much I would have noticed this in another book (probably a lot less), but still, it was there;
↬ the beginning seemed aimless at first. It's very much not, and I get why it was that way, but I was thinking "where's the plot" for at least 15% of this.
I still really liked it, and want to reread it at some point in the future. I know I will appreciate some parts of it even more now that I know what they're doing.

Profile Image for Bradley.
Author 5 books3,911 followers
April 15, 2020
See that dragon on the cover? Yep. It definitely stole the show.

As for the story, I think I want to classify this as a silkpunk tale feeling quite like the Korean-Japanese occupation, with automatons, a simple magic system, and an overarching theme of rebellion.

The main character wasn't one I really grew into, however, and the romance was only slightly interesting to me. I enjoyed the intrigue more. I especially liked the whole thing more when we got to a certain automata.

I should mention one thing, however. I stumbled and/or grew annoyed with the over-use of the pronouns. I probably would have had the same issue if it was too many he or she, but in this case, it was they/them. I've seen it done well in other works, including Leckie's Imperial Radch series, where the genderless pronoun became a source of mystery and plot-building. But here, with the constant use, probably over-use of the pronoun, I found myself annoyed by one thing more than the rest: clarity. Clarity suffered.

Just trying to keep tabs, I was pulled out of the tale more times than I can count. This isn't a good thing. It's almost like asking a life-long reader of third-person perspectives to read nothing but first-person perspectives from now on. I'm not comfortable with the loss of clarity. It's not even about losing genders to keep all the ducks in a row. It's about losing plural and singular, too. I keep trying to count how many are in the group when our MC is alone.

All this got a lot easier once characters stuck to their names instead of the barrage of unspecific pronouns.

Honestly, I probably would have enjoyed the actual tale more if it had been a smoother read. I'm rating it a 3.5 out of 5.
Profile Image for Rachel (TheShadesofOrange).
2,028 reviews2,809 followers
August 28, 2021
4.0 Stars
Video Review: https://youtu.be/ehEWq2Y7vC8

I  basically loved every aspect of this novel. As a rare standalone in the fantasy genre, this book held a wonderful complete, satisfying story.  I almost felt it could have been longer, but mostly because I enjoyed it so much that I would have loved to spend more time with the characters in this world.

The main characters were complex, well developed and generally quite likeable. I appreciated reading from the perspective of a nonbinary person, which is not a something I see enough in fiction. It took me a while to get use to the plural pronouns, but I appreciated that it challenged my outdated understanding of language and grammar. I also really enjoyed the inclusion of a dragon character because I really love reading SFF stories that include these non human perspectives.

The author's science work is known for being dense and complicated. So it was a welcome surprise to find that this fantasy novel was very accessible and easy to understand. I loved the magic system in this world where objects were brought to life by painting sigils on them. As a hard magic system, we learn that the magic comes from the grammar and pigments used to create these symbols which made the magic feel more grounded. The story doesn't spend a lot of time on the rules of the magic system, yet it provided enough information to provide a solid understanding for the reader.

This is my first time reading Yoon Ha Lee, but it certainly won't be my last. I am now eager to read his science fiction trilogy, which starts with Ninefox Gambit. This author is clearly a talented storyteller and I want to become immersed in more of his worlds.

This novel included so many of the tropes and themes that I love in fantasy, reminding me of other favourite fantasy books like The Poppy War, The Traitor Baru Cormorant and Eltantris. This is probably not the most original fantasy narrative, but it's the kind of fantasy story I would happily read again and again.

I would highly recommend this one to anyone looking to become immersed in an eastern inspired fantasy world told from the intimate perspective of a well developed queer character.

Disclaimer: I received a copy book from the publisher, Rebellion Publishing.
Profile Image for Holly (Holly Hearts Books).
366 reviews3,034 followers
September 2, 2021
I badly wanted Phoenix Extravagant to be an awesome dragon fantasy but unfortunately it just isn't. Despite a few bright spots like a nonbinary main character, it’s hard to recommend it. The bits of quality writing and world buildup that make up the core of it are overwhelmingly obscured by flat characters who I personally never cared for then layered over by a thick paste of inconsistent rules, (story convenience was an issue for me as you can bribe literally any guard in this world to get away with anything.) and lack of overall dragon content.
Full review to come on my YouTube channel: https://www.youtube.com/hollyheartsbooks
Profile Image for Mike.
378 reviews92 followers
May 15, 2020
This was absolutely wonderful.

Having read the Machineries of Empire, which I describe as a New Weird space opera, I was expecting the same kind of mind twisting here. Don't get me wrong, I *like* New Weird, so I wouldn't have been upset, but I was nevertheless surprised by how easy to read this was.

This book is set in a thinly disguised secondary world version of Korea, occupied by a thinly disguised secondary world Japanese Empire. The protagonist is Jebi, a not-Korean artist just trying to get buy. They've learned not-Japanese and adopted not-Japanese mannerisms and even taken a not-Japanese name, to make it easier to get work. (Non-gendered pronoun use is deliberate: Jebi is non-binary, which their culture is fine with and the not-Japanese occupiers are just kinda baffled by.) All of this infuriates their sister, who's late wife died fighting the not-Japanese invasion.

Jebi hears of a job offer from the not-Japanese Ministry of Armor, responsible for producing weapons, armor, and, most importantly, the magically powered soldier and tank automata constructs that made the conquest of not-Korea so easy. They're offered a job painting the magical glyphs that make these constructs work ("offered" in the sense of "the secret police know where your sister lives" kind of offer). Once they've accepted this kind offer, they find out what their assignment is: the Ministry is having trouble with the automata dragon they've constructed, and it's Jebi's job to find the problems in the controlling glyphs and correct them.

Now, automata are made to be mindless, mute golems, executing their instructions perfectly. But while working on fixing the dragon's glyphs, he secretly adds the glyphs that will give the dragon a voice.

What follows is a truly wonderful story of many different kinds of love. The love of Jebi for art, the love between Jebi and their sister, the inconvenient love that Jebi develops for a high-ranking Ministry member, and what might possibly be my favorite love between person and dragon outside of Hiccup and Toothless.

But this isn't a light-hearted book by any means. Colonialism is a heavy theme, and cultural erasure. Yoon Ha Lee managed to upset me in a way that no book has really ever been able to, when Jebi learns the secret behind the pigment used to make the glyphs. Yoon, if you happen to read this, that was seriously upsetting. Loyalties are tested all over the place, and the line between good guys and bad guys gets more than a little blurry in places.

One thing this is *not* is a book about trans rights. Jebi's non-binary gender identity is simply an accepted part of who they are. No struggles for acceptance. This is neither a feature or a bug: stories about that kind of struggle are important, but stories showing non-binary as a normal and accepted part of society are valuable as well.

I'm not sure if this book will have a sequel or not. It doesn't need one: the story ends on a perfect note as far as I'm concerned, but Yoon left themselves room for one. I kind of hope there isn't a sequel, honestly. This book was wonderful all on its own.
Profile Image for Starlah.
393 reviews1,597 followers
September 14, 2021
maybe more like 3.5 stars

CW: familial disownment, colonization, racial supremacy, beatings, descriptions of injury and violence

- JEBI! is a soft enby artist and pacifist who just wants to get paid for their artwork. they're a very ordinary person that stumbles into some extraordinary situations and i like a normal joe protagonist.
- the science fiction elements were very accessible and easy to understand and picture while reading
- siblings! i love sibling dynamics in stories and Jebi's and their older sister's is really cool. they make different decisions and go down different paths in response to their homeland being occupied and colonized and the tension that makes in their relationship makes for a dynamic read.
- love animal companions, even anthropomorphic automaton dragons!
- the REP! loved the non-binary representation in our main character. there were many queer relationships, a polyamorous one, and more. and just all of how gender is handled in this book. misgendering doesnt exist in this world.
- Jebi and the dragon Arazi's relationship was so tender.

- some scenes felt a bit random, like there wasnt really a purpose for it.
- there were some interesting things that would happen off-page that i wished we could have seen.
- the way that magic and art is connected is really fascinating but i wished we got more of it and more information on how it worked.
- i wish relationships were developed a bit more so that the emotional impact of certain moments in the story hit harder
- the fantastical/mythological elements of this story sort of popped up at the very end of the story and it was sort of jarring. i wished we either got bits of it throughout the story so it wasnt so out of the blue, or it was omitted and it stuck closer to the sci-fi elements from throughout the story.

overall, this was a complex story that i enjoyed reading but still sort of wished i got more from.
Profile Image for Silvana.
1,119 reviews1,111 followers
April 5, 2020
It pained me to give three stars to a Yoon Ha Lee work. Maybe because I read many better stuff from him. It might not be fair to compare this with his Machineries of Empire series, but it is just not as enthralling or engaging. It has no level of complexities like in MoE. The main character, Jebi, was not as colorful as Jedao, to say the least. In fact, they made me feel morose from start to finish. If I have to treat it as an individual book, giving it another star would be a huge stretch.

The story was set in a country under occupation of a foreign ruler that used automaton as part of its enforcement activities. The worldbuilding might easily refer to Korea-Japan war in the 20th century, complete with a 'Westerners' threat lurking in the horizon. There was some minor magic that involved the use of pigments that could cause all sorts of destruction when applied correctly by capable artists. It is not particularly a magic system that makes you go wow, though it has the potential. There was a certain automata that would steal every scene it was in. Lee is always good when describing intelligent non-living things.

All of those are not that bad, but I always felt 'surely something more exciting will happen after this' after every chapter. I kept waiting and waiting until the eye-rolling ending, which is my biggest exasperation of this book.

Overall, of course, this is not a bad book; 'twas quite well written, in fact. It is just that I needed a lot more.

Thanks Netgalley and Rebellion Publishing for the review copy.
Profile Image for laurel [the suspected bibliophile].
1,370 reviews376 followers
November 29, 2020
4.5 stars.

Dragons. Art. Revolution.

Jebi isn't a revolutionary. They're an artist, and they just want to paint, dammit. So when they're turned away from the painting exams, thrown out of their house after their sister finds out their adoption of another man, and they get an offer from the Ministry of Armor to paint—they take it. Granted, they have little choice, but they take it.

"If standing on principle means that you lose the people those principles are meant to protect, what's the point?"

I. Loved. This.

YES. Me, a non-arty for arty's sake person loved this book about an Artist, capital A.

This was a beautiful piece of anti-colonialist fantasy that I was so happy to read!

Jebi is a painter who creates art for the sake of art. That is their life's blood and their passion, and they have been grateful for their elder sister, who has supported them in their pursuit. However, in a colonized country that is still occupied by the invaders, finding a paying job that allows the pursuit of art is...really difficult, particularly if you are not one of the colonizers. So Jebi changes their name (because what's in a name?) to a colonizer's name, and that change is the last betrayal their sister will accept.

Anyway, I loved this way more than I was expecting to love it, because 1) it surprised me and 2) it was funny as fuck. I wasn't expecting it to be funny.

Vei's mouth quirked at the corners. "Can you think of anything likely to be faster than a dragon this size? Especially since Arazi assures me that it can fly."
{I can definitely fly,} Arazi said with disturbing confidence.
{Have you ever tried it?}
{I'm a dragon. I can fly.}

There were marks of humor that had me howling more than was probably appropriate, because parts of this hit that sweet spot of absurdist humor that I love.

And there were higher points, like the destruction of art for literal power/magic, and what it means to destroy art to turn it into something else, and what it means to value art only as the means to an end instead of an end in and of itself. And what becomes good art, or art that is valued. Jebi's people's art was sought out for its destruction and ability to power mechanicals and the colonizer's army of things, while the colonizer's art was valued as the pinnacle of society.

Within this discussion of what is art lay another point: at what point does the mimicry of the thing become the thing itself? And do the origins matter?

In this world, dragons existed (or had existed). However, Arazi was an imitation of the thing but had become the thing. It was art that had been imbued with a sense of purpose and self, to the point where it believed it was a real dragon, so it was a real dragon. Period.

Vei lifted one shoulder, let it fall. "It's your choice, she said, resigned. "I will keep the hostiles from touching you. I will cut down anyone who so much as stirs a hair on your head."
Jebi was torn between saying You are embarrassing me and I am going to take up my brush and make a painting of you that they will talk about for the next 10,000 years. They said neither.

I also loved the relationships in this book.

There's Vei, a singular duelist and swordswoman. Upright, honorable, dedicated to a fault. Yet, she's also got an interesting past, with a high-ranking father in the colonizing army, and two other parents who were part of the colonized. She was seen as both conqueror and traitor, to the point where her identity took up sort of a cognitive dissonance of two separate and opposing things. And her relationship with Jebi really needed stronger communication skills, but they got better at it (also, how much can you truthfully communicate when both of you are under suspicion and in the enemy's stronghold). And, of course, Vei's really not so sterling past (with a it was war and what happens in war is not personal attitude).

There are Vei's parents, who had little page time but were wonderful.

There's Jebi's sister, who's name I cannot remember, who had layers of her own and surprising depths, most of which sprang from her grief at the loss of her wife. Her tale was one that catapulted her into action after suffering from the loss of a loved one, whereas Vei was catapulted into action to prevent the loss of a loved one, which was interesting to see how the two women were used as foils in Jebi's life.

There is also Jebi's friend, who's name I cannot remember, who showed Jebi kindness while also betraying her own people in order to gain a scrape of power and fashionable lifestyle in a world where she would ordinarily have been afforded neither.

There is a duality there that's explored throughout many of the characters in the book—where you show one person one aspect of yourself, and another something else entirely, to the point where there are so many pieces that are you and not you, depending on who is looking at you. Like a painting, or art, in many regards.

And of course there is Arazi, the dragon who was just so fucking precious and amazing and initially scary as fuck, which just goes to show that what is not understood is frightening, and it takes the knowing and understanding to make it less frightening (in some regards...in other regards, as also shown in the book, more knowing and understanding makes things more frightening).

Anywho, after this long and garbled review where I have written (as usual) long blahblahs about things that have no fucking point and make no fucking sense, let me just say that I loved this book and I also loved the world-building, where everything fit perfectly together and was just so beautiful and so well done and did I mention that it was funny? Particularly because much of the subject matter was so grim and the implications so dire.

Also, it's queer as hell!

I received this ARC from NetGalley for an honest review.
Profile Image for Silvia .
635 reviews1,387 followers
September 26, 2020
I was sent this book as an advance copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

3.75 stars

I can finally say I've read my first Yoon Ha Lee book! And I thought it could have gone a lot worse, considering the short stories I've read by him, but also it could have gone slightly better? I confess I was hoping to give this book 5 stars.

But let's not get ahead of ourselves. I am not good at summarizing what this story is about because there's many themes (colonization, art and so much more) that I truly believe is best to find out for yourself. But it is a beautiful story with an unlikely protagonist, Jebi, a nonbinary artist who's really not fit to deal with everything thrown at them, and often gets sidetracked because they must paint at inconvenient times (Jebi's actual thought process at seeing mud or their own blood: must use it as paint. now!) or because they are frankly a little too horny for their own good (but who can blame them when the object of their yearning is a beautiful sword-wielding woman).

Choosing Jebi as the protagonist was a choice that could have backfired but it made the book more interesting. Jebi is one of us, they don't know how to deal with politics and revolutions, they want to stay out of it and they keep making mistakes when thrown in the middle of things. If you're someone who tends to be frustrated with protagonists you might want to extend some mercy to Jebi and be understanding of them, and put yourself in their shoes.

I suspect a lot of people will come to this novel because of the mecha dragon shown on the cover (it's me, I'm people), and they won't be disappointed! While I would have loved for Arazi to have more page time, I still loved it and found its relationship with Jebi to be one of the highlights of the book. Arazi's outside might be an automaton but it is a real dragon, with dragon skills and knowledge. Its curiosity about the world through Jebi's senses was so cute and I truly wouldn't mind a book only about their friendship.

The thing that most worried me going into this, only having read two of YHL's short stories, was the writing style. The stories I read were really complicated and as much as I wanted to get along with the style it just made me feel like I was on a different (lower, much lower) level. My friend said the writing was very different here so I started the book without being too scared, but with the knowledge that YHL's usual writing is much different I couldn't help but notice how he kind of, forgive me for not knowing a better term, dumbed it down. Which is good!!! This writing will definitely appeal to a broader public and I didn't have a problem with it, except when things were explained a little too much for my tastes. I hate being spoon-fed information about the character's emotions, information that is already or can be made clear (with gestures, dialogues, tones) without overly explaining. I don't think this is something that happened a lot, but it really stood out to me whenever it was unnecessary.

The "too much information" could have, in my opinion, be used elsewhere in the text. I confess that as much as I loved Arazi I still had a hard time getting a handle on its character at the beginning because I was left completely on my own to figure out its tone whenever it said something, and it already had the whole mysterious mecha dragon / real dragon entity thing going on, so a little help figuring out their personality would have been nice.

Overall, this not being the author's usual writing style, I thought some aspects of the book felt like a colorful painting where the colors had been stripped of their vibrancy. What suffered mostly was how relatively little I was made to care about some of my favorite things in fiction (sibling drama, queer romance, relatable protagonist), to the point where throughout the book I had to remind myself to care instead of just caring. But the book made up for it with its story, its intriguing and frankly horrifying concepts (if you love art....prepare for pain), its normalized queerness (probably one of the most normalized across all planes - sexuality, gender, polyamory - that I've seen so far). Plus it's obvious that even through a more simple writing style YHL is a great writer, so I still highly recommend reading this (and I'll be sure to try and read some of YHL's previous non-short-story works too).
Profile Image for The Captain.
1,067 reviews359 followers
October 19, 2020
Ahoy there me mateys! I received this fantasy eARC from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.  So here be me honest musings . . .

I read this because mechanical dragon and Yoon Ha Lee.  While I loved the dragon and the art magic, I didn't really find meself enthralled with the story itself.  I am not sure why.  The book was well-written but I didn't get the sense of magic that I received from his other works even when they made me noggin ache.  I liked the main character Jebi but think I would have preferred a story that dealt more with the art magic and dragon determining what it wanted out of life and less with colonization and lust/angst of Jebi.  I am glad I read it but wish the plot would have went into a different direction.  Arrrr!
Profile Image for Cathy.
1,597 reviews238 followers
December 4, 2020
“Gyen Jebi isn’t a fighter or a subversive. They just want to paint.
One day they’re jobless and desperate; the next, Jebi finds themself recruited by the Ministry of Armor to paint the mystical sigils that animate the occupying government’s automaton soldiers.“

My first thought was that this was inspired by China, maybe HongKong, but I adjusted that thought to Korea, after having come across a Kimchi pot. And that turned out to be right, when I looked up the author‘s website.

“It’s about a nonbinary painter teaming up with a pacifist mecha dragon against an evil empire (as one does), and it takes place in a magical version of Korea during the Japanese occupation.“

I liked the setting of a magical realm based on real countries. The „depths of the Razanei government’s horrifying crimes“ weren‘t quite as horrifying as I had expected. Ok, the creation of the pigments was a little horrifying, if you have an appreciation of art.

Fascinating dragon. I would have loved for Arazi’s character to have been developed more deeply. Alas, with the story told purely from Jebi‘s POV, that wasn‘t possible. I would also have liked to see more of Jebi’s particular brand of magic. And to have seen Jebi setting other automatons free. It almost looked as if they would do it once or twice...

Neither the conquered Hwaguk or the Razanei were purely black or white, there were nuances that kept it multifaceted. The characters were depicted with enough depth to make them feel real. It didn‘t make it easier to like one or dislike the other. No cardboard cutouts in this novel. Bongsunga and Hak were prime examples of that dichotomy.

I enjoyed the light romance. Vei was my favourite character. And her family were great side characters. Jebi wasn‘t the smartest or most aware cookie. I think some might find Jebi annoying in their ineptness and rather unpolitical stance regarding the conflict in their country. The childlike naivety was rather charming for me.

So there is plenty of potential for a possible sequel. Fingers crossed. Which I would read, although it took me a good while to get through this book. I enjoyed the writing, it just wasn‘t compelling enough to drag me through the story at a higher speed. Despite the plot it was a rather chilled affair for me.

I received this free e-copy from the publisher/author via NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review, thank you! I am late, I know, I know....
Profile Image for Andy.
2,360 reviews185 followers
August 1, 2021
Finally read this 6 months later than I intended to! This was such a captivating read. This is my first adult book by Yoon Ha Lee, the other one being Dragon Pearl which was fantastic.

Phoenix Extravagant is about artist Gyen Jebi, who finds themselves jobless one day and forced into the service of the Razanei's Minister of Armor to help animate their automaton army with glyphs. Basically a magical coder, I loved it. Jebi is a pacifist and while they cooperate to keep their sister safe, they also despise the work their doing, especially when they find out that to make the glyph pigments, original artwork is destroyed.

This was an amazing story of revolution and the power of choice. As Jebi gets further into learning the complex patterns needed to animate the automata, they find out that to write contradicting patterns leaves the possibility of choice. Which the Razanei don't want. But Jebi doesn't agree with their tactics and after giving the dragon Arazi a voice, they find out Arazi doesn't either.

I loved Jebi. They are so soft and so precious. They have so much hope for the world to be a better place so they can paint to their heart's desire. And then their relationship with Vey. It was something else. Definitely enemies to lovers, but also Vey's ferocity paired with Jebi's sweetness? I was deceased. I loved how much queer people were built into this world. There's never any misgendering or assignment of gender to people unless it's known. We also see a polyamorous parenting triad and it gave me life.

This book was just so lovely and I NEED more nonbinary/genderqueer/genderfluid MCs that don't strictly use binary pronouns.

Rep: Nonbinary queer BIPOC MC (Asian coded), biracial queer love interest, bisexual female side character, BIPOC cast of characters, queer-normative world.

CWs: Blood, confinement (to rooms/cell), colonization, familial disownment, death, murder, sexual content, torture, violence, grief, xenophobia.
Profile Image for imyril.
436 reviews60 followers
February 15, 2022
This tale of a reluctant revolutionary, unsuited for rebellion but burdened by guilty debts and a compassionate heart, is unexpectedly wholesome for a book about overthrowing a repressive government. A secondary-world fantasy, Phoenix Extravagant is inspired by the Japanese occupation of Korea, but with 100% more mechanical dragons and a delightfully queer society that includes a non-binary protagonist, non-heterosexual on-page relationships and an adorable poly family.

The highlight is Arazi the dragon automaton, all insatiable curiosity and unexpected compassion, and protagonist Jebi's rare consideration of the automata as people, deserving of care and free will.

Being Yoon Ha Lee, there are dark undertones to the drama, which deals with colonial attitudes and the cultural erasure through the destruction of art, but this remains far lighter stuff than Machineries of Empire (and much easier to absorb). Consequently, it will likely suit YA and NA audiences as well as adult readers looking for a fluffier fantasy read.

3.5 stars

Full review
Profile Image for sirius proserpine.
286 reviews43 followers
February 25, 2021
this isn’t a review, but it is very important to me, so i’m just gonna casually @ the reviewers of this book.

now, in case you didn’t know, i’m non-binary (agender) and use they/them pronouns, like this book’s protagonist (jebi). in a fuck of a lot of reviews, i’ve seen people say things varying from finding jebi’s use of exclusively they/them pronouns odd, to grammatically incorrect, to something that confused them, to something they had to get used to. nothing obviously transphobic, but honestly? i implore everyone who had that thought process or considered it a worthwhile critique/comment to make about this book to reassess the way comments like that would and will be interpreted by the non-binary and trans community. my identity is not something for you to “get used to”, and respecting my pronouns isn’t “odd” or “confusing”. this is inarguably true irl, but also something that takes priority in fiction. yes, non-binary people are only recently getting representation (particularly #ownvoices) in media. yes, a lot of people aren’t used to it. but implying that people who use they/them pronouns in literature are something to “get used to”, as opposed to simply another part of a character that should be accepted and moved on from without criticism, implies that there is something strange or wrong with those pronouns/that part of a person to begin with. also, it has nothing to do with the book. in a review about phoenix extravagant, unnecessary and possibly negative comments about jebi’s pronouns are completely unrelated and quite frankly, the insistence on including it anyway comes across as pretty messed up. respecting pronouns has nothing to do with writing style, plot, pacing, or even characterization/character development. it’s akin to saying “the character had blonde hair, which took a while for me to get used to”, only with a shitload of history and systematic marginalization surrounding it that being blonde doesn’t have. to be far more succinct than the long paragraph i just wrote, the end of is: do not imply that a character’s gender identity is something that requires getting used to. it is transphobic and uncalled for.


i saw this at the bookstore and am Deceased. i need to stop buying all these books dammit 😭 there are already so many 2021 releases i’m looking forward to i do not have the budget for spontaneous book-buying that is not intensely premeditated and budgeted to a fault BAD ARI BAD 🗡
Profile Image for Mariah.
1,161 reviews440 followers
Want to read
August 19, 2020
That cover gives me BSL (Big Shen Long) energy and I'm here for it.
*Imgur is down so please hold for a Shen Long gif*
Profile Image for Para (wanderer).
356 reviews191 followers
March 7, 2022
ARC received from the publisher (Solaris) in exchange for an honest review.

Wow. This was just as great as the cover and the blurb suggested it would be. I loved following Jebi as a protagonist, even if it took some time to get used to the name since it's a rude word in my native language. Having someone who wasn't brave or 100% dedicated to the cause right from the start felt like a real breath of fresh air. They were just an ordinary person with plenty of flaws and blind spots caught in something much larger then themself and the way they acted seemed very realistic to me. The pacing was more intense than I expected, especially in the second half and the book deals heavily with colonialism, resistance, and cultural suppression (Korea-analogue occupied by Japan-analogue?), which I liked a lot. The worldbuilding is excellent, especially on the cultural front, with a lot of attention paid to art and food and the differences between the cultures - something I've always appreciated.

All in all, highly recommended. But holy shit the ending.

Enjoyment: 4.5/5
Execution: 4.5/5

Recommended to: anyone looking for books about colonialism and resistance, casual LGBTQ+ rep, Asian-centric worldbuilding, or thoroughly ordinary protagonists

More reviews on my blog, To Other Worlds.
Profile Image for Justine.
465 reviews297 followers
July 16, 2020
I'll discuss this book more in depth in an upcoming video review! Subscribe here!

Having read Lee's Ninefox Gambit, I knew that I should expect a few things from Phoenix Extravagant: an incredibly immersive and original world, great characters, and a compelling read. While I enjoyed Ninefox Gambit, his latest novel absolutely blows it out of the water for me.

Lee manages to strike a fantastic balance between darker themes and lightness and humor that makes this book a fast-paced and incredibly fun read. While witty banter, unexpectedly sweet characters, and plenty of fun makes Phoenix Extravagant an incredibly compelling and quick read, he does not shy away from the horrors of colonialism. Exploring identity, cultural erasure, and the damages of colonialism. It's a hard-hitting narrative that is easily absorbed by the reader.

WIth amazing characters that twist your expectations as a fantasy reader, to wonderful worldbuilding and an impactful story, Phoenix Extravagant is one of my favourite books of the year so far. It feels so wonderfully fresh in a genre that can sometimes be a little stale (despite it being my favourite).

4.5 out of 5 stars
Profile Image for Cozy Reading Times.
384 reviews12 followers
July 26, 2022
Interesting and promising in the beginning but in the end a bit too past-paced and sadly a little forgettable.

There was so much happening and and so many unexpected twists and turns that I had a hard time keeping up or staying connected to the characters.

I really loved the World building though, inspired as it was by Japan's occupation of Korea, giving an interesting perspective through Jebi's eyes.
As somewhat of an artist myself, I also appreciated all the art content and related Jebi's attitude. They were very endearing, same as the dragon.
I really enjoyed this up to to around the halfway point.
Many other characters I didn't like as much, in particular Jebi's sister I didn't vibe with.

Overall interesting but not lasting.
Profile Image for Caroline.
359 reviews92 followers
January 22, 2021
Thanks to NetGalley and Rebellion Publishing for providing me with a copy in return for an honest review.

While I'm glad to see that many people loved this book, it may be my most disappointing read this year. While the varying levels of queer representation in this book are fantastically well done, that aspect doesn't make up for everything else that is severely lacking in the story.

While initially I was pretty intrigued by the world and characters, at almost 60% of the way through the book I found myself wondering what the point of the book actually was and where this story was even going - if it was going anywhere. At more than halfway done I should have had some idea. At the 80% mark I finally had to admit that I was bored and had been for much of the book. By the time any action actually happens, it felt too little too late.

Further, the dragon - which should have been the most interesting part of this story - felt constantly like an afterthought. The dragon is off stage throughout most of the book and feels like its just a decoration for the main character. Speaking of which, Jebi spends the majority of their time not wanting to do anything that they are doing and boy, will they not let you forget it for a second. Their thought process became so increasingly repetitive throughout the book that I started skimming their exposition near the end.

The end, which I had some serious problems with and what ultimately made be take this from a 3 star to 2 star review. The final destination decision for the characters makes absolutely no sense in the context of the rest of the book and was not explained how it was even a possible or realistic choice. The book also just stops rather than actually ends with an unacceptable amount of loose ends for a stand alone novel. The "ending" is in fact so open that I had to double check that this was not the first in a series upon finishing it.

I have quite liked Yoon Ha Lee's writing prior to this book and was not expecting a story and characters that ultimately just felt flat with relationships that only work if the characters (and readers) agree to completely gloss over the nasty things people do to their "loved" ones.
Profile Image for Adri.
934 reviews804 followers
July 12, 2020
CWs: Familial disownment, depictions of colonization, incurred notions of racial supremacy, instances of beating, descriptions of injury and violence

Yoon Ha Lee has an incredible, beautiful mind, and I always feel lucky for any span of time that I get to live inside it. Phoenix Extravagant is a unique and ambitious story about non-binary artist and life-long pacifist, Gyen Jebi, wanting to be paid for their art when they're unceremoniously drafted into the Razanei's military to paint the glyphs that activate the automata army. Let me say it louder: this story has a soft enby protagonist who's basically a magical coder. And that's badass.

This story is set against the backdrop of colonization and war, and it makes you think about the boundaries we draw around ourselves and the contradictions we have to navigate that inevitably shape our choices. Especially in terms of the magical "grammar" Jebi is charged with formulating to animate the automata soldiers, it has to be meticulous work, because when two commands conflict, that creates the space for unpredictability, and unpredictability is the very catalyst of choice itself. And when given that choice and that awareness, the automata creature Jebi is working with changes their world fundamentally, just by existing with agency.

Yoon Ha Lee always has such an eye for developing emotional drama as well, whether it's with complicated familial bonds, dangerous lovers, or social dilemmas. The way they're able to bring each chapter to its absolute height and cut away at such delicious moments of tension is really an art form in and of itself. I found myself extremely invested in these characters and their choices, and how those choices were being challenged as war begins to come to the forefront.

There's a wonderful tenderness between Jebi and the dragon Arazi as well, who is only beginning to come into its consciousness. Yoon Ha Lee has such a delicate hand when it comes to developing personal relationships, and it was nice to have a counterpoint of affection against all the fear and destruction. On one hand, Jebi is trying to figure out how to escape their colonizers, and on the other hand they're experiencing the joy of discovery each time they describe to Arazi how taffy tastes or what the sky looks like. That relationship is really something to latch onto as the drama builds and unfolds.

Additionally, gender is handled with such thoughtfulness in this story. Assuming someone's gender or misgendering someone basically doesn't happen in this world. There's never a misstep; Jebi is always referred to correctly and with neutral terms, which is so nice to see. The narration also doesn't arbitrarily gender flat characters or side characters either. For example, instead of saying, "the man said to the woman," it would say something like "a person with a lower-pitched voice spoke." And it's really that easy, isn't it? Queerness is purely incidental in this story. You have characters of different genders and sexualities, and representation for polyam familial structures as well, and it's not a big deal.

My only notes for the story are how some scenes feel a little random as opposed to purposefully built-up, and there are also some interesting character moments that only happen off the page, which I wish we could see. The way magic and art are connected is really fascinating as well, and I would've like to see that pushed a little bit more.

But overall, this is a stunning and complex story (as if Yoon Ha Lee knows how to write any other kind) that challenges the traditional hero's journey in times of war. As a pacifist and self-described apolitical person, Jebi is confronted with their beliefs, and forced to think critically about their role in this revolution against the Razanei. And in being confronted with those things, it would seem like taking up arms would be the "natural progression" for their story arc, but Yoon Ha Lee shows us other possibilities. The story makes us think about what is the every day person's role in times of war, and whether there is value in being able to see the individual for exactly who they are instead of as just a number or an enemy. Jebi is learning where their power truly lies and what their abilities could become depending on the choices they make, which is really interesting to think about.

The ending initially brought me pause, but then I remembered that Yoon Ha Lee is meticulously deliberate in the way they shape narrative. And the way this story ends makes me think about how completeness is not something that is owed to the reader. Just because you don't get to see the bigger picture from beginning to end doesn't mean the story and the character is not worthwhile, and indeed it makes you consider the contrast between the span of one life and the broader story of the world, which will always outlive us. It would be easy to say that I want more, which I would not object to, but I also like being challenged, and ultimately that is always what Yoon Ha Lee does best.
Profile Image for Bee.
381 reviews3 followers
June 22, 2022
I mean... I didn't hate it. Sometimes it was rather beautiful. It had some really cool concepts and ideas. But... as with Ninefox Gambit, the prose felt like it was the awkward guy who keeps explaining himself when no one asks him to and keeps apologising for apologising. I know this is an unpopular opinion. It's weird because it has so many ingredients i really enjoy. I love the cultural background, it's so rich, and so familiar if you know your Far Eastern mythology and world views. I wish I loved this book. Just like I wish I loved Ninefox. But I think I just have to make peace with not liking het writing and move on.

Maybe you'll love, I think it deserves to be enjoyed. But not by me.
September 22, 2020
Thank you to Rebellion, Solaris and Netgalley for the review copy in exchange for an honest review. This does not change my opinion in anyway. 

Yoon Ha Lee is one of those authors that I have been meaning to read their trilogy of but it just hasn't happened. So when I got the chance to read this book by them I had to give it a shot. I think what happened here was an 'Its not you but me' thing. 

Phoenix Extravagant is an interesting kind of story about a country that has been colonized by one of its neighboring countries many years in the past. But it is still fresh enough that many remember the war. It makes a certain bleakness and grittiness run through the story as so much is affected by the colonizing and the little microaggressions by the colonizers. And lets not forget the grudge the survivors have. Yoon Ha Lee gets that tone just right.  

It creates an interesting setting for our main character, Jebi who is non-binary, to navigate through. How to make a living as an artist when the only well paying job is by the colonizing government? Stuck between that and the judgement of their family. Jebi has to constantly navigate others needs and wants in between trying to figure out where their own values lie. 

As interesting as that sounds the problem I had is that I never really got hooked into the story. For me the magical aspect was a little underdeveloped. I just didn't feel like I got a good grasp on it as a whole or what was able to happen and what was not. I also lost interest in the many musings of Jebi. I never felt that I would have missed anything had I not read them. 

Having said that, please don't take my 3 stars as a bad rating. I think this is a book that will strike a chord with many people. 

AND there was Arazi who was amazing and should have been a bigger star (says my dragon loving heart). 
Profile Image for Andreas.
482 reviews129 followers
May 31, 2020
The cover illustration shows the pacifistic roboter dragon which is animated by magical ingredients, one of them the rare pigment
Phoenix Extravagant for destructive power, as befits an engine of war. Blood Circle, for loyalty to the Empire

Main protagonist artist Jebi additionally applied an extremely common pigment "Talkative Cicada" which let the dragon talk. The dragon is in the control of the Ministry of Armor, and broke and jobless Jebi is hired to fix the dragon. The role of the supervisor lies in the hands of the ministry's duelist prime, beautiful and resourceful Vei.
Jebi puzzled over that. How did dueling relate to art? But then, they’d never understood the intricacies of Razanei administration, including the fact that every ministry had a duelist prime to defend its honor. Hwagugin didn’t practice the barbaric art of dueling, given the choice. Of course, sometimes an offended Razanei duelist didn’t give a Hwagugin that choice.

Razanei represents the imperialistic Japan which ruled over Korean, represented by Hwagugin where the novel is set. This defines roughly the epoche in the beginning of the 20th century, just in a magical transformed world.

The author implemented a full bingo with these buzzwords to grab my attention and brought it fully to live. I immensely enjoyed this rich setting full of surprises.

Jebi becomes entangled unwillingly between loyalists of the Razanei imperium, appeasers, and open rebels, blowing with the wind each time a new protagonist comes up. They is clearly the likable hero, although not a very wise one.

Wait, what, "they is the hero"? 

Yes, Jebi is non-binary and chose the singular-they as their gender pronoun. This is a premiere for me, as I never before read a full novel with a non-binary main protagonist. I have to confess, that I needed to get used to this uncommon pronoun and would have preferred a softer introduction (maybe similar to the hero's transformation in The House of Styx) than this heavy-handed shock treatment.

THEY. IS. QUEER. The author made a bold statement with this work for the LBGTQ community which I totally respect. It stretched my tolerance, and I read and discussed a lot about it. Insofar, the author reached his goal. Retrospectively, I am willing to tolerate the somewhat degraded readability. There are not so many authors who can believably transport this important topic, and Yon Ha Lee is certainly a prime example. There are so many examples, where male authors write about female in a way that you can only scratch your head. In this novel, Yon Ha Lee did everything right: non-binary protagonist, their female lover and their sister are all strong characters not degraded by their gender.

As a story, it felt strange. Throughout the tension arc, I thought that this would be a perfect first part of a series. It developed very slowly, only to burst out into activity very late, just as you would expect in a series. But I found out that the book is a standalone, which wasn't reflected in the prose.

The second negative point is the strange usage of Chekhov's gun: the celestial court, situated on the Moon, didn't really impact the story. It only gave a nice exotic flavor to the setting. But then, the ending was so strange and over-the-top (or should I say "over-the-Moon"?) that I could only wave it away.

Disregarding those two minor issues, I fully recommend reading this wonderful, exotic story with robot dragons, artists, and a rebellion.
Profile Image for charlotte,.
3,049 reviews807 followers
December 24, 2020
“You idiot,” Vei explained, “we’re not supposed to take turns collecting injuries.”

On my blog.

Rep: East Asian inspired characters and setting, nonbinary mc, lesbian and bi side characters, side polyamory

Galley provided by publisher

I want to open this review up by telling you what not to expect from this book. Because I know from the experience of not really getting Yoon Ha Lee’s writing style in Ninefox Gambit, how people might not like this one, his first fantasy novel. (And because I know a lot of people have come to this off the back of his middle grade novel, which is great, but also very different to his adult style, but enough dithering.)

Things not to expect

• An action-packed ride (at least not til closer to the end).

• Very much exposition on the world-building (particularly magic systems here). He’ll trust you to pick it up as you go along, and that does/doesn’t work for different people.

• A light writing style (in that it’s quite detailed and dense at times).

Okay, now we’ve got that out the way, why should you read this book?

Firstly, I am biased, because I read Machineries of Empire and loved it (barring the aforementioned blip of getting into the first book). So, I knew I would like this book at the very least.

The best thing about this novel is Arazi. I mean, who wouldn’t love a snarky sentient automaton dragon? And really, the book gets very good once Arazi shows up. The relationship between him and Jebi was a little reminiscent of Jedao and Cheris in book 1 of Machineries of Empire so of course I was guaranteed to like it.

And then there’s the worldbuilding. I know I warned about the dense writing and lack of exposition above, but for me those are great aspects of it. I love being trusted by the author to pick up magic and politics as I go along, because I’m really not one for reading long passages explaining the world.

There were probably two things I was less enamoured by. The first is that Jebi is a much more passive (for want of a better word) character than Yoon Ha Lee’s previous mains. I don’t necessarily think that’s a bad thing, but for a lot of the plot they just seemed to go along with things, rather than causing them. But hey! They just want to live in peace, really, so I can see them as a more reluctant rebel type. I also didn’t love the romance, but again, that’s just me. The whole relationship was necessary to the plot, but I didn’t think the romance itself was (if that makes sense).

But overall, this was an enjoyable read. And one I urge you to take up, especially if you want to read more of Yoon Ha Lee, but adult sci fi is too intimidating right now.
Profile Image for Kristenelle.
220 reviews26 followers
June 5, 2021
This is the lower end of a four star rating for me. I liked it well enough. I particularly loved the dragon. But I wanted more from it. I wanted it to be more immersive and there were times when the scene changed too quickly and it took me a minute to understand what was happening. However, I enjoyed it. The author clearly has a love for a visual art that was really nice to see.

Sexual violence? No. Other content warnings? Death, war, torture.
Profile Image for Barb in Maryland.
1,843 reviews107 followers
December 14, 2020
Very clever, with an interesting magic system.
I liked the author's fantasy world: an alternate universe, centered in a version of late 19th century Korea/Japan/China, all vividly presented.
It takes a while for our hero to find their right path. Watching Jebi become aware of what is actually happening is very satisfying. Arazi, our automaton dragon, is absolutely delightful. But my favorite character is Vei, female duelist (think katana, not pistols).

There is lots of action, political intrigue, family conflict. Though the central plot (free the dragon) is resolved, there is obviously More To Come. I'll definitely be on hand for the next volume.
Profile Image for Yuna.
447 reviews1 follower
November 17, 2020
A lot to like here. The way politics is handled is layered, and though Hwaguk is the most sympathetic there's no simplistic good and evil here. The magic is interesting without getting too lost in its own details, and I liked the mechanic of destroying art to make magic pigment. Was hoping we'd see a bit more exploration of agency in the automata beyond Arazi though, especially since Jebi wonders about it on a few occasions.

But ugh. Jebi. How can someone so competent also be so utterly lacking in common sense? When it helps make conflict in the plot I guess. I like a lot of what their character represented: they care about art and history, they care about other people's feelings and well-being, they care about protecting someone's agency even if that's an automaton dragon. They're not particularly special--it wasn't clear to me if their manipulation of the pigments was specifically their talent or something in theory any artist could've done--they're a good artist but it didn't seem like the artist equivalent to Vei's dualist prime. But they're not a super fighter or a genius or anything like that. In many ways they're average and somewhat relatable because they're not always on their game in every situation. And I liked that they represent the view of one who doesn't have fervent feelings either way about the war and Hwaguk's being occupied by Razan. Like, it affects them yes because hello colonized state, but also not? They're not gungho about the rebels or getting cozy with the overlords...they're just trying to make money to pay the bills.

All good things! But OMG could they be annoying at times. So many "oops I shouldn't have said/done that" or "oops, I should've remembered/thought of that first." And their ineptitude got played for laughs a bit too much for my taste. I liked the complexities of their relationship with Vei, but I didn't feel much of the romance. Too often I was like...why does Vei like them? She's awesome, and Jebi is kind of...their memory sucks if it provides conflict for the plot.
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