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In Victorian England, Londoners wash up dead on Thames, drained of blood and bone. Clandestine Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is forbidden to investigate. But Eliza Braun, with bulletproof corset, fondness for dynamite, remarkable devices, drags along timorous new partner Wellington Books, of encyclopedic brain, against Phoenix intent on enslaving Britons.

402 pages, Paperback

First published April 26, 2011

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Pip Ballantine

49 books212 followers
See also works published as Philippa Ballantine.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 961 reviews
Profile Image for Stephen.
1,517 reviews10.9k followers
October 28, 2011
Okay, Steampunk, here's the deal...the freshness has worn off, the splash has dried up and you have become as ubiquitous as Starbucks in the world of science fiction and fantasy.

Remember when Starbucks & Steampunk were both the bright-eyed, hipster, upstart new kid on the block basking in their novelty and unique approach and nose-thumbing at the old guard of the status quo? Well, like Starbucks, Steampunk has grown fat and happy and become the status quo. Everywhere you turn, you can see its green and white siren calling brass devices, its goggles, its airships, its corsets, its steam-powered contraptions, its difference engines…

…Steampunk has become mainstream and common.

I mentioned the above merely as observation and not as criticism. I am a big, big fan of the Steampunk genre (and Starbucks, but that’s more of an addiction). It is natural and proper that successful ideas spawn copy cats and very successful ideas spawn industries. This is life. Give the people what they want.

However, with the plethora of Steampunk material out there, it does require that new novels encompass more than just exotic world-building and large, steam-powered pistols to distinguish themselves and be of interest. It’s no longer enough just to be…you must be GOOD.

Well color me satisfied because this Steampunk novel was a real cockle warmer and an excellent surprise. This story showed up packing a whole lot more than just flashy brass trinkets. It drove up sporting smooth, polished prose, a well-crafted sherlockian mystery and a pair of wonderfully drawn main characters that over the course of the novel really latch on to your care centers.

This is a terrific story that just happens to be a Steampunk novel. BONUS!!!

Phoenix Rising is set in a wonderfully imagined alternative London that has been gorgeously punked up with all of the normal fixtures and accessories of the genre. But it has so much more as well. The tone of the novel is playful and light and loaded with dry, humor. However, the subject matter is fairly dark and adds a real tension to the narrative. This makes for a delicious blend of a dark, mature story with humor which is a recipe I really enjoy.

Thus, my enthusiasm was pretty rampant.

Here’s a quick thumbnail of the plot to the extent my glowing word-slobbering didn’t adequate describe it.


Set in 19th century England, the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences (MPO) is the Crown’s version of the X-files and their resources have been stretched to the limit as lately much strangeness has been afoot. Citizens have been disappearing without a trace and turning up with either (1) no blood, or (2) no skin or (3) even no bones (this last one is quite a neat trick). Our “odd couple” main characters are Eliza D. Braun (female James Bond with the body of Pussy Galore and overfondness of dynamite) and Wellington Books (think Sherlock Holmes with Watson’s demeanor and lack of physical prowess).

When Braun’s former partner becomes a victim of the strangeness, the duo is eager to investigate. However, they are refused the assignment because Braun is in the soup for blowing up the House of Usher in her previous mission. Thus, the pair decides to take matters into their own hands…YAY.

From there, they find themselves on a fast-paced, rolling coaster of an adventure as they track down a shadowy secret society that has all kinds of diabolicalness planned for the world.


Fun, clever and thoroughly enjoyable. This is definitely a series I will return to and Philippa Ballantine and Tee Morris have created a terrific new world with a vast store of potential adventures that I hope they use to full advantage.

Looking forward to more good things from this pair.

Profile Image for carol..
1,516 reviews7,718 followers
February 7, 2015

Steampunk is an odd mesh of history, fantasy and technology that frequently suffers from inconsistent blending. Perhaps I will have to agree with Kerry's review and declare "genre incompatibility." Like the loud drunk guy at a party, it is at times mildly funny, then unintelligibly serious, but always focused on getting some action and, ultimately, annoying. Undoubtedly, if you stand by him too long, there will be beer spilled on your shoes.

Phoenix made a pass and missed me. First, there is the tongue-in-cheek naming: an action-oriented lead named "Braun," a librarian--excuse me--Archivist named "Books," an Australian named "Bruce," a home for the insane called "Bedlam." Then there's the random Victorian idioms: "So because some gammy tart pulled a flam on you, you're thinking yourself the Ministry's glock?"(If this seems incomprehensible in context of my review, it's only fair, as it lacked more than cursory contextual explanation as I read). Throw in the awkwardly worded sentence such as "His grip was fleeting as the hand wrenched back to where the coach whip wrapped around his neck and then went taut. The black rider's arms flail wildly as he plummeted from his saddle" and you have writing that doesn't hold up to thoughtful reading.

While I thought the beginning was fun, the plot started wandering three quarters through. The mystery is rather spurious with a meeting leading to a locket leading to a clue (and why would the villains pay for a table for a year in advance?) which leads to attempts on their lives. Sprinkled throughout are hints and innuendos that will lead to later series developments, I'm sure. Two scenes in which a mysterious evil gentleman forces intelligence officer to act as inside double agent lacked congruity.

**********We interrupt this review to bring you a public service announcement********
Personal liberation from sexual stereotypes does not mean overuse of sexuality to accomplish goals by manipulative means. It does not mean you have to display your assets among sexually repressed people to prove you are different or autonomous. Hopefully, you will learn this sooner rather than later: freedom is not simply opposition.
**********We now return you to your regularly scheduled review*****

The characters aren't anything unique and Braun annoyed me with her "I'm a feminist but I wear a corset so I can use my ta-tas to distract men" tone. I don't know that I needed the titillation of a forced orgy scene to be convinced that the bad guys were bad. It was roughly at this point that I started to lose interest in the book and start skimming. It's the kind of thing that moves it from young adult level to adults-only, especially since it strongly hints that our heroine chooses to partake (Ooh, how rebellious! She is control of her own sexuality when she chooses to have sex to fit in!) To each her own, after all, but I found the cumulative references to her "liberation" monotonous.

Rating: three stars the first half, two stars once we hit the mansion scenes, for a wavering two and a half stars.

Cross posted at http://clsiewert.wordpress.com/2013/0...
Profile Image for Sarah Mac.
1,062 reviews
February 3, 2017
Don't look now, but Sarah just tried to read another steampunk novel.

Seriously, though. Why do I keep attempting this genre? Is it the visual allure? Possibly. But the fact remains: despite whatever drives me to pick up these books, I don't like steampunk. There's something about it that rubs me the wrong way. Perhaps it's the gizmos. Perhaps it's the muddled and/or taken-on-faith world-building. In any case, steampunk inevitably leaves me feeling as if I've been left out of an exclusive club & can do nothing except hunch my shoulders & ignore the condescending stares from every quarter.

There's an elitism to these books, an implied superiority that makes no attempt to coddle those of us who aren't already waltzing around in corsets & goggles -- everything is a secret handshake, a wink-wink-nudge-nudge, & it's really freakin' obnoxious.

BOOK: What ho, what ho! I'm a steampunk novel!
ME: WTF does that even mean?!
BOOK: Cheerio, chum! I shall explain everything to a most satisfactory conclusion!
ME: No, seriously. What are the fundamental functions of your universe?
BOOK: Functions? Functions? My good woman, I wear Victorian lingerie! Also, there's stuff powered by steam.
ME: But what are these glowing viewscreens? That's got nothing to do with steam, does it? And how do these automatons roll around?
BOOK: Mechamen, you mean?
ME: Whatever. Just explain them in simple English.
BOOK: ...I'm steampunk! What ho, what ho! What else do you need to know?
ME: No, see, I've been to Wikipedia. I've looked at pictures. I've read HG Wells. But I still can't picture this stuff at all.
BOOK: Well, that's dashed inconvenient. Shall I fetch an analytical engine to help you?
ME: I think perhaps we're not on the same page.
BOOK: I beg to differ, old chum. I have gizmos! I have gears!
ME: Yes, but--
ME: This relationship has reached an impasse.
BOOK: Toodle-pip, what ho, what ho! I'm so bloody British. I just made an in-joke about Sherlock Holmes. And Jules Verne. And possibly Dr Who. You do know what a flying machine is, I presume?
ME: See, now I hate you.
BOOK: So sorry to hear it, my good woman. How about a spot of tea? I shall have my automaton put the kettle on. And would you like a soothing massage in this steam-powered bathing machine?
ME: Piss off.
BOOK: I forgive your rudeness. Even if you're...American.
ME: Just shut it, huh?
ME: Oh, dear god.

Thankfully, my steampunk stockpile is nearly gone. I'd ditch them all unread -- except there's always a chance that something will strike a chord, right?


Okay, maybe not.

On an unrelated note, this book is poorly written -- poorly paced, poorly explained, poorly characterized, & littered with obnoxious uber-British dialogue that is trying way too hard to sound British. In summary, Phoenix Rising is an utterly unsatisfactory reading experience. (Take that, you smarmy piece of subgenre. :P)

Profile Image for Felicia.
Author 28 books128k followers
May 27, 2011
Soo I am a fan of Philippa's other series, Geist, but I didn't actually see that she wrote THIS book until after, haha.

I enjoyed this book a lot. The main character's voice, like in Geist, was definitely one of the biggest strengths, and the other characters were well-drawn. This is a cool steampunk world that actually worked for me, I enjoyed the idea of a secret bureau, and the tech and description of the world and items in it was enjoyable.

I guess the only things I could say negative were that there were some strange tone issues, like later in the book things get racy in a way that come a bit out of nowhere considering the nature of the book up until then. And then the ending had a weird character turn that wasn't laid out up front, so it seemed to come out of nowhere, and it will be interesting how the subsequent books deal with the development. But all in all, I'm enjoying this latest wave of Steampunk lit, and this is a great addition to the fold. Great main lady character! Urban Fantasy people will enjoy.
Profile Image for Mike (the Paladin).
3,145 reviews1,805 followers
August 21, 2018
Well...I may need to add a new shelf. This is a fantasy and fits (depending on your personal definition of the term) into the Urban Fantasy milieu (as it takes place largely in Victorian London. But it's not "our" Victorian London. This is (I believe) the first Steampunk I've ever really liked. This could change things big time for me...I was never a Steampunk fan.

Okay, back to business. Good book, maybe not great, maybe total brain candy, but fun. We start with the requisite kick-butt "hottie" (Is that considered too non-PC? No offense intended only using he vernacular, "so to speak") who's known to the "people upstairs" for blowing things up. She gets paired with the archivist (librarian?) of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. He's supposed to mentor her..take her under his wing so to speak, and round out her methods.

Right...I'll leave you to guess who leads who into what.

But it's a good book. It's a fun book. It has an interesting plot, some nice anachronisms, some great inside jokes (like a couple named Barnabas and Angelique Collins).

Again, I can recommend this one and have already got the second...I have it on my list at audible so I can get it whenever I want it.
Profile Image for Catherine.
523 reviews538 followers
May 24, 2011
It’s not often that I read a book with quite this dynamic. The heroine is the daring, dynamic one in the investigating duo. The hero is the adorably proper and nerdy Archivist who finds his combustible new partner a trial to him. Eliza and Wellington have both become rather set in their roles. When they find themselves partnered and forced to work together it’s a learning experience for them both.

All poor Wellington wants to do is work behind the scenes and rule his little domain in the Archives. He has no interest in doing field work and is appalled to find himself stuck with someone who can’t see herself doing anything else. Unfortunately for him, their boss in the Ministry isn’t pleased with what happened when Eliza rescued Wellington (a scene that starts the book off with a bang!) and punishes them both by sticking them together in the Archives.

The first hundred or so pages are slower paced than the rest of the book. This is necessary to set up the dynamic between the characters—and I wouldn’t have wanted that skipped—but I can’t deny that it dragged a bit. I liked that their tentative steps toward becoming partners weren’t rushed, but I wish there had been a way to tighten this up a bit so it flowed as well as the rest of the book.

I loved the fact that Eliza and Wellington didn’t get along at all in the beginning. They weren’t quite at each other’s throats, but I think they were both fast approaching the point where just the sound of each other breathing would have made them want to strangle each other. These were two completely different people who had to learn to work together. They both had a hard time learning how to value what the other person did. Eliza couldn’t see the draw of being stuck in the Archives with nothing to do but sort the adventures other people had, and Wellington couldn’t see the point of being out there risking his life when there were plenty of other people who wanted to do it.

Wellington and Eliza didn’t just clash heads on their opinion of what they should be doing to serve the Ministry. They were opposites in practically every way. Eliza was bold and rather crass. She delighted in shocking the opposite sex with her behavior and she would much rather blow something up than reason her way out of the situation. Wellington was not a lady’s man. He was exceedingly proper and was rather horrified with himself for occasionally being unable to overlook Eliza’s charms. He was calm and thoughtful and refused to carry a gun. They seemed completely unsuited to working together, and no one was more surprised than them when they realized they were the perfect team.

Eliza and Wellington (or Welly as Eliza insists on calling him) are not the only well drawn characters. The villains of the piece are surprisingly interesting as well. Eliza and Wellington both find themselves with the uncomfortable realization that in another situation they might have found themselves good friends with some of the villains.

Eliza finds herself particularly drawn to an assassin. They are both ruthless women with a similar draw to fighting and weapons. Watching them battle at the opera was particularly funny—they both took a moment to comment on each other’s seamstress in the middle of the fight. Although he enjoys the Archives, Wellington only ended up there after his application for the invention section was denied. He has a particular love of mechanics and when he finds a kindred soul in one of the villains it’s hard for him to ignore his fascination with his devices.

This is not a Romance, although there is a very, very light thread of romantic potential between the two leads. Mostly, they just bicker and pick at each other as they investigate. The dynamic between them reminds me strongly of the recent Sherlock Holmes movie. Watson and Holmes had the same bickering camaraderie between them that Eliza and Wellington do. The language is also another delight in the book. There are lots of slang words popping up here and there (especially from Eliza) like dollymop and Fabian. It added a nice flavor to the dialogue.

I felt that we got to know Wellington more than Eliza. He was more open and vulnerable, letting us see his shyness with women, his insecurities, and his inner struggle with the way his father raised him. Eliza was a much tougher nut to crack. She’s having a hard time getting over her old partner—and Lord, was I tired of hearing the partner, Harry, brought up all the time—and she misses New Zealand. She dislikes the stereotypes about Colonials and she likes shocking men with her forward behavior. That’s about it for her. We occasionally saw a hint of her turmoil over her past, but it was never fully addressed. I’m hoping we get more insight into her in a future book.

All in all I thought this was a strong first book and that anyone who was a fan of the adventure in the Blades of the Rose series and the dynamic in Sherlock Holmes movie might want to check this series out. I’m very eager to see where this partnership takes Eliza and “Welly” in the future.

Favorite Quote:

"The time has come to divide and conquer, Welly. Get back to the Archives. You do what you are good at. I will do what I am good at."

He glanced at her, "Blowing things up?"

Eliza gave a nod, shrugging lightly. "I stepped into that one. No, I have other skills, you know," she returned. It was fun to see him blush. "Interrogation."

"You mean investigation."

She was barely able to contain a little snort. Life had sheltered dear Mr. Wellington Books down in the Archives. Unfortunately life had not been so kind to her. "Investigation. Interrogation. What you will. As you'll be in your element, I'll go back to Charming Cross and see if I can find out a bit more about the good Doctor Smith."

Review also posted on Fiction Vixen
Profile Image for Isa Lavinia.
596 reviews297 followers
March 21, 2012
Poor writing (too much tell, not enough show), poor editing, poor pacing, lazy characterizations, and a plot that managed, somehow, to be both absurd and boring. The dialogue desperately tried to be witty but always fell short.

Also, Books and Braun? Come on, now.

The actual steampunk bits (the gadgets and the like) were interesting, hence the 2 stars rating (because I can't give it a 1.5).

And I still can't forgive this:

“It was believed that Ferdinand Magellan was one of its members.”
Eliza blinked. “Hold on. Magellan? How does a Spaniard—”

"a Spaniard"?!?!

December 27, 2019
What a fun read! A great duo, an entertaining plot, funny dialogues and a great steampunk setting without too many gadgets. I can't wait to read the rest of the series!

· Book 2: The Janus Affair ★★★★
· Book 3: Dawn's Early Light ★★★★
· Book 4: The Diamond Conspiracy ★★★
· Book 5: The Ghost Rebellion ★★★★
· Book 6: Operation: Endgame ★★★★
Profile Image for Marcus.
Author 7 books10 followers
March 10, 2011
After the first pages of Pip Ballantine’s and Tee Morris’ Phoenix Rising: A Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences Novel I was under the impression of heading into a hilarious and almost slapsticky Steampunk adventure. Eliza Brown and Wellington Books, the central protagonists, were simply too much of a missmatch and their initial “conversations” too comical. I had several good laughs.
Gradually, the lightheartedness leaves the novel, though. Keeping pace with the developments, the comical nature of their relationship fades more and more into the background. The pair gets to know each other better, and while still not fully understanding the other, they develop a grudging respect for their respective partner.
The story itself very soon becomes fast-paced and action packed. There are quite a few instances, in particular the excellent, almost swashbuckling duel scene in the London Opera, when I felt like having to hold onto my armchair. Still, humor never leaves the pages. Within the very same duel there is one notable simultaneous question between the duelists:

“Who is your seamstress?”

That one had me chuckling for hours afterwards.

But Phoenix Rising is not all good humored swashbuckling action. Not by far. The moment Books and Brown manage to infiltrate the Phoenix Society, the story gets noticeably, even drastically darker. Although there are hints earlier in the novel, telling of most nefarious events involving the society, I was relatively unprepared for the abysses of human behaviour and decadence within the Phoenix Society. Quite a twist.
I have to congratulate the authors on their ability of putting a number of those twists into the story. There are several very interesting turns over the course of the novel. Some are entertaining and give surprising insights into some characters, their history and the world, others drastically alter the reader’s perception of the main dramatis personae. I dislike putting spoilers into my reviews, so I will say no more.

The cast of characters is also one of the strong points of the novel. Every single one is believable, no matter how fleeting or detailed the description. Although Eliza and Wellington have some rather stereotypical traits, both have more hidden depth than one would suspect. Their antagonists are similarly fascinating. Sophia, Eliza’s nemesis, is Eliza’s spiritual twin, as Eliza herself notes, had they met in different circumstances, they would be the best of friends. The heads of the Phoenix Society range from scientist who has gone over the edge to complete and utter filth. Again I have to express my admiration for the creativity and writing-style of Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris. “Filth” does not even scratch the surface of what Lord Devane is. Of all the villains I have thus far encountered, he is by far the worst, and his claim of “superiority due to noble lineage” makes him even more disgusting. A villain you love to hate. Next to him, everyone other villain shines.

And shining brings me to the one aspect I found rather annoying. Eliza shines too much. Wellington, although highly skilled and with more talents than one might expect, has some issues. For one, he is haunted by his upbringing, further, he is awkward around women and afraid of guns. Eliza is bold, confident, brave, liberal, resourceful, rich and a benefactor to the poor, beautiful and through her we learn how much more progressive New Zealand is compared to Britain. She even had Maori tutors for her martial skills. Her one negative trait is that she is quite a vamp. But this is something easily forgiven since she uses her womanly powers only in service of the Empire and never crosses certain boundaries. She is too good. I got the impression she is the authors’ favourite brainchild and thus got only good things.

But this is the only point of contention I have with Phoenix Rising. Other than this one point, the novel leaves nothing to be desired. Phoenix Rising is a real page-turner. The novel makes you laugh, gets your adrenalin pumping, makes you laugh again and fills you with the urge to drag the villains out from between the pages and give them a dose of their own medicine.
Profile Image for Christine.
6,550 reviews473 followers
August 9, 2011
Don't judge a book by its cover. Yeah, but readers do it all the time. It's sad, but we have too - there so many books out there. In some ways, the covers become the short-cuts - romantic covers look one way, fantasy covers another.

But then you have books like this one. I really wasn't sure if I should pick this up. But I figured what the h*ll, Borders is leaving.
But just take a look at that cover. Honestly, what woman, outside of Lady Gaga, would go out in Victorian London, even a steampunk version, dressed like that? Plus it looks like she dislocated her hip or something.

The book is really nothing like the cover, thank god.

Eliza Braun works for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurences, and finds herself assigned to work alongside Wellington Books. They work for a Dr Sound, who is the love child of Dumbledore and M.

It's true there are some very cliched plot devices here - Books and Braun hardly being the most obivious, even the reversal of roles with the Bookish man and the Brawny woman has been done before. Tragical pasts, lost love, abusive parents, rich but poor, it's here. Yet despite the cliche plot devices, the book is, for the most part, entertaining. While the authors fall into some cliches, they stay away from others, in particular the bad ones that almost novel with a non-convential female lead seem to have. Braun isn't the only strong woman, and there are wonderful instances of humor. I also liked the fact that Braun was not virginal, nor slutish. Just healthly. She has both male and female friends, feels admiration for women who a strong but not strong in the way she is strong.

The world is well drawn and believable.

To me, however, I have to say that the most jarring part of the book, in fact the only jarring part of the book aside from its cover, are the sexual teaser scenes between the lead characters. This ties in with the cover, as if the authors or publisher (or both) want to highlight the romance aspect because after all, all of us who like fantasy novels really romance. :snort:

Please some one stop this. I don't mind sex or sexual tension in books. It's fine. I don't like it when it is forced and it goes on and on. Some fantasy novels, say the Kushiel series, do really well with romance plotlines. But not everyone does, and some cases such romances are not needed.

The sexual tension scenes in this book felt very forced and didn't quite make sense to me. They felt thrown as if, here good reader. Could've lived without them. I get that Boots and Braun snipe like a married a couple, but I fail to see how that equates to sexual tension between - tension which is stated but never shown, if you know what I mean. Maybe it's me. I too have someone I snipe at like a married couple, in fact; some people think we are married.

We're not. He's gay. I'm female. It's a great friendship, but it isn't a romance.

Boots and Braun feel more like that or like brother/sister when they snipe, and do not feel like they are suffering from yearnings. In fact, the most emotional aspect of the novel was between Braun and someone besides Boots. That part was touching, and filled with desire.

But the authors didn't get graphic where a few other authors would've, so I guess it evens out.

In short, an entertaining read and I'm keeping eyes out for #2.

Why? Because this book despite the cliches was a fun read. In fact, it is, for the most part, what a good action movie should be - if such a movie met Upstairs, Downstairs (my money is on Mrs Bridges). This would make a good Masterpiece movie or series. True, there is a lull point, but all action movies have one. More importantly, the action is actioned filled.

And Sherlock Holmes inspired, I would guess. The best writing occurs when either Braun, Books, or Sound speak. A fun read.

Plus, who can hate a book with Poe and Verne references among others? Not me!

Profile Image for Ugur.
227 reviews200 followers
May 8, 2015
Normally I wait to finish to review a novel but for this novel I want to write my feelings while reading. For a long time I was planning to read Steam-Punk novels, and last year I’ve bought two steam-punk themed novels. The first one was Soulless, the first book of Parasol Protectorate. But I could not find what I’ve expected from a steam-punk, because it is more like a paranormal-urban fantasy and it has few steam-punk elements. Then I started reading Phoenix Rising, the first book of Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. So far there is no paranormal-urban fantasy elements in this novel and it is all about steam-punk, OK I need to confess there is still not much steam punk elements, but it is enough.

This novel reminds me the X Files, just like X Files there are some unsolved classified and achieved cases and our characters are trying to solve this unsolved cases. I like both of the characters; Eliza Braun is a femme-fatale and a field agent who knows what to do for surviving and opposite of Eliza is Wellington Thornhill Books who knows everything, work has worked for years in the archives. Probably there are lots of things still not uncovered about Books.

Mystery elements are better than I expected in this novel. I’ll write a detailed review after finishing the novel.

Pre-Review date: 18.03.2015
Update: 08.05.2015
I've finished this book in one week and really liked the world and characters. Probably I'll continue reading the series. If you are new to steam-punk, this could be a great start.
Author 15 books23 followers
Shelved as 'dnf'
November 3, 2011
Quit on page 22.

My last shot at steampunk. It always seems more interested in exploring the minute details of incomprehensible gadgets than the inner workings of the characters. Since engaging characters are a reading priority of mine, I declare genre incompatibility.

In the two chapters I read of this particular offering: Profuse character self-description (sometimes I feel like the only person who doesn't believe it's natural to pepper my internal dialogue with remarks about my own appearance). Within a handful of paragraphs, her mind raced, her head spun, and her mind reeled (poor girl seems terribly discombobulated to be trusted with firearms and explosives). The occasional huh-what, such as "Wellington observed his interrogator on his face" (the interrogator was lying face-down on the floor, not attached in some fashion to the face of Wellington--good reasons to avoid words like "observed": not only do they add distance between the reader and the narrator's POV [reader is watching the narrator watching something, not seeing it as the narrator sees it], they also breed more pronouns than a sentence can sensibly support). The latter might have been slightly more clear had it been made apparent at any point during the preceding two pages that someone had been interrogating Wellington, but remarks such as it was jolly good he still had his clothes and 12 lines describing another character's attire were evidently more important.
Profile Image for Mike.
Author 47 books154 followers
April 9, 2012
Out of perhaps misplaced loyalty to a fellow New Zealander, I try hard to like Philippa Ballantine's stuff. Chasing the Bard I enjoyed, but up until now I've never been able to finish anything else of hers, or Tee Morris's.

I read this one all the way to the end, though, and although I nearly gave up in the middle, I'm glad I stayed for the big boom.

Major publishing houses no longer seem to give decent editing to first novels, and Phoenix Rising is no exception. It's full of small errors of word usage, phrases with missing words in the middle, grammatical changes of direction in midstream, and errors of fact (I would have thought a librarian would know, or know where to look up, the difference between a rifle and a shotgun, and which one you use to shoot pheasants, but it seems I would have been wrong). Clearly, neither of the authors knows how to spell "tremor". And the pseudo-Victorian dialogue would be less tedious if it were more accomplished.

I asked Tee Morris about the editing in a comment on his blog, and he replied that they had missed a round of edits because of timing. This is telling me a few things:

1. Either the authors submitted the MS late, or the publishers were understaffed, or both.
2. The MS they submitted was full of these errors.
3. The publisher shoved it out the door anyway.

I'm finding it hard to avoid the conclusion that everyone involved was unprofessional, but especially the publishers.

Beyond these things which an editor should have fixed, but didn't, there are elements in the writing that feel forced - particularly the sexual tension between the partners. The villainy of the far-too-numerous villains is, to my mind, overdone to the point of melodrama. They might as well be tying girls to railway tracks while twirling their mustaches. And, while much is made of the New Zealand origin of the heroine, I didn't get any real sense of New Zealandness from her. There were a few references to Maori and women's suffrage, and an anachronistic mention of the national rugby team, but that was about it.

The book wasn't a total loss, though. The action sequences, while at an action-movie level, were well enough written - I just wish there had been more of them, and less stilted dialogue and unerotic sexual teasing.

Overall, I'm not impressed with this, but I think I could be by the sequel. Ballantine and Morris, you have one more chance to win me over.
Profile Image for Kara Babcock.
1,906 reviews1,235 followers
October 9, 2014
Why did no one tell me this book existed until now????!!!!111

Seriously, it took a careful browsing of the library’s New Paperbacks section to discover the second and third books in this series. A quick hop to the nearby computer (which I think is running some kind of locked-down Ubuntu if the font anti-aliasing is anything to go by) to check the library’s catalogue, and sure enough, Phoenix Rising was in the stacks of that branch. Have I mentioned how much I love my library?

A quick glance at the description for these books was enough to convince me that I must read them all and now. That’s not to say I was convinced I would love them, or even that I loved Phoenix Rising all that much. It actually isn’t very impressive. Nevertheless, I could tell on sight that this was the steampunky equivalent of a beach read: light and frothy and satisfying.

Let’s start with the title. I hate titles of the form x Rising. I think they’re stupid. I have no rational argument for this bias; it’s just the way I feel, and you are welcome to disagree with me on it (but I will cut you).

Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are an unlikely pair of agents for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, thrust together by chance and the whims of the ministry’s mysterious director, Doctor Sound. I’ll let you guess which one is the brains and which is the … er … brawn. They end up investigating the Phoenix Society, the rumblings of which are getting louder (hence the title). Oh, and the society is also responsible for driving Eliza’s former partner into the clutches of Bedlam.

Ballantine and Morris rely a great deal on the odd couple pairing of Books and Braun. So your mileage of the book’s humour will rest largely on that. It didn’t do much for me, mostly because they don’t do anything new with the trope. Wellington seems to get the share of character development while we learn comparatively less about Eliza. I will, grudgingly, admit that in the broad strokes the pairing works. Just.

What works a lot better for me is the alternative steampunk London in which Phoenix Rising takes place. Ballantine and Morris do a great job at dropping subtle reminders that this is a different London from the one we’re used to. Wellington has somehow constructed Babbage’s analytical engine for himself (though that seems to be a one-time thing). Complicated gramophones and self-service bars exist. Oh, yeah, and there are obviously airships (TVTropes). (Sidenote: I’d love to see a steampunk alternative history that intentionally and viciously doesn’t invoke the airship trope. Like, just totally slaughters any notion that even in a steampunk world airship travel might be viable.) While not subtle, these technological references are presented as normal, everyday parts of life in this alternative world (with the exception of the Gatling-equipped killer robots, obviously).

The emphasis on technology and its role in the plans of the antagonists highlights how Phoenix Rising straddles the steampunk–urban fantasy divide. Technically it falls into the DMZ of speculative fiction, what I like to call agnostic fantasy. There are plenty of mentions of stories or myths about magical artifacts but no actual magic on page. So it remains to be seen whether magic is real in this world or merely very advanced, steam-powered science. On the other hand, there is a shadowy Big Bad behind the Phoenix Society, the House of Usher. (And, you know, I wouldn’t be all that surprised if it turns out to be a sentient house.)

Books and Braun’s bickering might be formulaic, but it gives Ballantine and Morris a way to spin out an already short book for a few more hundred pages. The story doesn’t really pick up until our intrepid duo go undercover to infiltrate the Phoenix Society. Oh, there’s also some kind of subplot involving a mole in the Ministry. It doesn’t go anywhere, which suggests it’s more of a series arc—and it’s good to know, at least, that Ballantine and Morris have some kind of overall vision for the series.

As I said above, I knew before I read it that Phoenix Rising would be light entertainment. Nothing about the book changed my mind on that score. It’s good steampunk in an alternative world.

Creative Commons BY-NC License
Profile Image for AH.
2,005 reviews370 followers
May 14, 2012
Great fun! Automatons, bullet-proof corsets, explosions, and more!

Eliza Braun loves her weapons and her dynamite. Wellington Books prefers to hide away in his basement offices at the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. When these two characters are forced to work together, sparks fly – literally.

Phoenix rising is the first book in Philippa Ballantine’s and Tee Morris’ Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. This is steampunk done right, down to every last detail. Set in Victorian London, Phoenix Rising has all the requisite clockwork, brass, and steam contraptions.

The integration of the steampunk elements into the world and the narrative is extremely well done. This book has some of the most interesting steampunk contraptions out there. I was especially intrigued by Book’s Analytical Engine, a machine used by Books to catalogue the many cases and items archived in the basement. This machine was a fascinating bit of technology, running on pulleys and gears. It was also able to function as a primitive GPS device as well. There was even a barmaid contraption, able to serve drinks. And what steampunk would be complete without automatons and mechamen? These automatons even served dinner!

Located inside an import/export company, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences is a top secret organization that investigates strange cases, a sort of Victorian spy agency. There’s even a group of Clankertons who work for Research and Design, reminding me a little of James Bond’s Q.

Books and Eliza were delightful together. Books, the “…dashing hero of history” was the Chief Archivist at the Ministry. Books was very serious about his work – you could call him fastidious. Around women, Books was extremely shy and Eliza’s brashness just flabbergasted him. Eliza was a loose cannon, literally preferring to shoot first and ask questions later. Eliza seemed to enjoy shaking up Book’s world at first. Eliza wanted Books to leave his office and go out in the field and enjoy his life. The banter and dialogue between these two characters was hilarious. At times, they even behaved like a married couple.

I enjoyed Eliza’s character. Her perspective of the world made me laugh. Upon attending a long and boring opera she remarked that it would be greatly improved with dynamite. Eliza was a fierce fighter, a crack shot, and generally someone you would want on your side. I also loved the fact that she was fiercely independent. While Eliza comes across as tough and irreverent, she also has a softer side. Eliza has a crack team of informants called The Ministry Seven. The Seven are a group of street urchins that she has taken under her wing.

Phoenix Rising is one of my favorite reads so far this year. The sequel The Janus Affair will be out May 29. If you’ve been hesitant to read a steampunk book, this is a great start. The book is action packed with edge of your seat excitement.

Favorite Quotes:
“Pushing manners to teeter on the precipice was where she found an equal euphoria to that of demolitions and covert operations, and Wellington sometimes resembled a pom caricature – full of fuss and feathers. Watching him squirm did blunt the serrated edge of her punishment slightly.”
“My ample bosom broke my fall.” She broke out into a cackle as she threw her arms around Book’s neck. “And this- “she chortled, rapping her knuckles against her corset. Standard issue for female agents. “It’s bulletproof.”
“You know, if I didn’t know any better, I would swear we were actually married.”
“I can’t think of anything more off-putting.” Wellington placed his hand in the small of her back as he continued, “than being married to a walking armoury. You, my dear Miss Braun, are a living, breathing advocate for bachelorism.”

The authors have a great website with lots of information about the series and steampunk.

The Pinterest site has great pictures of all things steampunk.

Review posted on Badass Book Reviews

Profile Image for Forrest.
122 reviews7 followers
July 3, 2012
I’m having a bit of a bad run. REAMDE was obnoxiously long and mostly not good so I went after a bit of steampunk book candy in Phoenix Rising, which turned out to be mostly not good. I wrote in my review of The Wise Man’s Fear that a good book can capture your attention and power you through exhaustion. Conversely, a bad book will put you right to sleep. I feel asleep six times trying to finish Phoenix Rising, and two of those times were in the middle of the day. It could be that I’ve read enough steampunk that the setting is starting to get boring for me, but I’m more inclined to put the blame on bad writing and terrible puns.

Phoenix Rising is an introduction to the characters Eliza Braun and Wellington Books. And, yes, the punning has already started. The two protagonists are secret agents with a British organization dedicated to the strange goings-on of a steampunk Victorian England. Eliza has a problem with explosives: she is overly fond of them. When her latest mission ends in the detonation of an Antarctic complex, she is reassigned to the Ministry’s Archives, where Books works. Rather than just sitting on her hands, Eliza goes digging in the Ministry’s cold cases and gets involved in a newly reformed secret society that might be responsible for a series of grisly murders.

I can’t even get through the summary without groaning. Plot notwithstanding, the book is riddled with obvious puns and terrible naming conventions. Books and Braun? Why not just name her ‘Brawn’ and… QUIT WINKING AT ME! There is nothing funny about a joke that would be out of place in a second grade book. The names are like the ‘Doctor Who?’ jokes that you only laugh at because it is expected.

Really, there isn’t anything in Phoenix Rising that isn’t expected. The jokes are predictable, the plot is banal and the writing is of that pseudo-Victorian style that titillates the people who dress up in frilly corsets and monocles and drives the rest of us insane. The core of the book is so devoid of anything interesting that I’m having trouble creating criticisms that go beyond “It’s BAD.” It might be because the villains’ motives are never really established. It might be because the assassin is named Sophia del Morte. It might be because the book keeps trying to set up a sequel. But I suspect that the real problem is that the authors have decided to write to the lowest common denominator of their fan base. This is a book for dumb people.

Or at least people who don’t read a lot. In the same way that romance novels never strive for the heights of literary quality, Ballantine and Morris have written a steampunk novel that attempts nothing more than adequacy. Their target reader has grown up reading paranormal romance and teen fantasy, and probably resents the more complex books they were forced to read for school. There’s no need for interesting or diverting content, because it would just reduce the target audience’s enjoyment.

And let’s leave it at that. Not every book needs to be good and if I go any further this review will turn into a rant about stupid readers and the harm that social media is doing to our collective literacy. Phoenix Rising is a terrible book. If you don’t read a lot, you might enjoy it, but anyone who’s reading this review has probably far exceeded the point where they could be entertained by this kind of drivel.
Profile Image for Kelly.
616 reviews147 followers
May 19, 2011
(3.5 stars) Wellington Books and Eliza Braun are agents in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, taking on the uncanny in the name of Queen and country. Agent Books is a straitlaced archivist — don’t call him a librarian — who enjoys mechanical tinkering and his peaceful job among the Ministry’s old files. Agent Braun is an outspoken New Zealand transplant who loves to blow things up. At the beginning of Phoenix Rising, the two agents land themselves in the doghouse with the Ministry and are assigned to work together. The unlikely partners then discover a new lead in a cold case that left Braun’s former partner institutionalized in Bedlam. An evil secret society is on the rise, and only Books and Braun can thwart their dastardly plans.

Phoenix Rising is one of those steampunk novels that’s not too serious. Pip Ballantine and Tee Morris fill the pages with explosions, witty banter, clever fashion, chase scenes, derring-do, and more explosions. The writing style intentionally evokes Victorian writing mannerisms and plays them for laughs. You’ll find plenty of steampunk gizmos, too, ranging from the handy (such as Braun’s armored corset and certain incendiary devices) to the just plain fun (Books’ “difference engine” is set up to have a function similar to that of an mp3 player).

In what may be another homage to Victorian fiction — especially Victorian serial novels — Phoenix Rising is rather episodic. It’s easy to read a quick chapter here and there when you have a break in your schedule.

The only jarring aspect is the darker twist that occurs when our heroes meet one of the villains. Up to this point, while there had been plenty of violence, it had the feel of action/adventure rather than horror. This character has a nasty streak of sadism and his scenes are too disturbing to take lightly. This section is incredibly tense and well-written, so I can’t complain about it too much, but I’m not sure it fits the “popcorn” mood of the rest of the book.

The action/adventure atmosphere does return, however, and the ending promises more Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences cases to come. With the dry humor and crackling chemistry displayed in Phoenix Rising, I’m sure they’ll be fun.

…And explosive.
Profile Image for Janice.
1,143 reviews66 followers
April 30, 2016
There was chemistry between the two lead characters - a strong kickass female agent and a bookish male with hints of repressed skills. The banter was humorous and laced with sexual tension. But the steampunk gadgets seemed gimmicky. There were some loose ends which presumably lead you into the next book in the series. I'm not sure I'll all that interested to see where they lead. The first book was enough for me.
Profile Image for Jessie  (Ageless Pages Reviews).
1,694 reviews873 followers
May 9, 2012
Read This Review & More Like It On My Blog!

4.5 out of 5

This was just great fun for me to read once it hit its stride - Phoenix Rising has nice mix of the best elements: a finely tuned use of steampunk and its gadgets, two vastly different but strangely compatible, rounded main characters, amusing banter, and a plethora of smart antagonists against which to pit their brains and Braun. The first hundred pages are used quite effectively to establish each of the individual characters and the world in which they operate, but they are slower in pace than the following three hundred. Once the essential basics are nailed down and the plot has kicked in, this steampunk fantasy is a wild ride full of airship rescues, bar brawls, lots and lots of explosions, (broad)sword fighting, and multiple secret societies - obviously this is a book that kept me on my toes with twists and turns. The first in a series of at least two novels, Phoenix Rising is a good harbinger of hopefully more madcap adventures to follow in Old Blighty with Welly and Eliza.

Eliza D. Braun is a "successful but not smooth" field agent and is so relegated to the Archives and Wellington Thornhill Books, Esquire. With typical gender roles reversed in this Sherlockian pairing of odd bedfellows, Eliza being the muscle and trigger-happy and Books the, well, bookish one, these two agents are an interesting mix of humorous banter, keen intelligence and walking armoury. There's no dearth of smart, capable women to be found in the book (hello, Sophia!), but Eliza manages to be both feminine and convincingly menacing in exactly her own brand (read: the girl likes weapons and knows how to use them.) It's also thoroughly refreshing to see a woman be the hero and ride in, guns blazing, to save the day her partner. Multiple times. The colonial from New Zealand's counterpart in Archivist Wellington is reserved, by the book - the straight man to her more free-wheeling approach to Ministry business. They are total opposites in nearly every manner and opinion, but their banter is truly amusing - I lol'd several times while speeding through. Wellington does come rather close to being a caricature of a librarian but his vaguely-defined personal history and a slow-reveal show him to be a rather more complicated man than it can first appear. This is obviously a more plot-driven novel, but to the credit of Phoenix Rising's cast, the characters are dimensional and can create credible pathos with the reader during their alternating POVs.

*These last few paragraphs are going to get a bit spoilery.* This book has been out a year so... just be warned. Though the early action scenes lacked a certain momentum and pull, the plentiful adventures later on more than made up for it (A death carriage with spinning wheels of spiky doom a la the car race in Grease? Why not?!) With the exception of the initial and introductory part of the novel, Phoenix Rising is filled to the brim with action, death and unsavory characters. With the addition of sparingly few but appropriate gadgets (the auralscope, analytical engine, the Combobula!), these two authors create an added dimension to their supernatural world without overdoing it on the clockwork. Unlike the somewhat laughable wax/mechanical steampunk/automaton army that was shown as a national threat in Kady Cross's The Girl with the Steel Corset, these Mechamen can actually carry a palpable menace and are juuuust right for a steampunk mystery centered around a case called the "Rag and Bone" murders. Of course there are mentions of "aether" and "corsets" (bulletproof this time! Much a smarter than just steel) but by and large, the inventions here are unique and original to Books, Mad McTighe or other characters herein.

Aside from my shallow and negligible complaint about the pacing of the first few chapters, all was going nearly perfectly (exception: Ferdinand Magellan was Portuguese, not Spanish) except for two little things: #1. the Phoenix Society Initiation Weekend's orgy. While it wasn't overly crass or vulgar, it also seemed totally somewhat unnecessary to the plot. The whole "women as communal property" was also distasteful, but I understood the point being made behind the sexist attitude - the orgy? Not so much. Olivia's essential pimping out (and drugging) of her young niece was also unexpected and randomly distasteful. #2. Other readers might have issues with the style of the book as well - the chapter titles are often ominous, if not outright spoilery in themselves. Titles like "Wherein Our Heroes Endure Perdition's Flames" are pretty much the general bent the authors chose. While certain key plot points and twists aren't explicitly revealed, it can take the edge off some of the adventures that are forthcoming.

Though the main events and plotlines of Phoenix Rising have been neatly wrapped up, there are several plotlines that extend themselves quite naturally to the second novel. Due out later this month, The Janus Affair is sure to be a closer look at the Moriarty-like mastermind behind both the Phoenix Society and Sophia amid quarrelsome banter and unlikely escapades. I for one am quite glad I have the second novel to hand - I didn't want the first to end as quickly as it did (downed in one day) so I'll have to draw out my second outing with Books&Braun. Fans of steampunk should take note and give this inviting novel a try.

Favorite quotes:

"Gods... the sacrifices I make for Queen, Country, and all the pommy bastards that live in it."

"The show really does go on.."
Profile Image for Kim .
434 reviews17 followers
March 6, 2013
It is really, really rare for me not to finish reading a book. Like, I think I've done it once in the past few years? And yet, I just can't force myself to finish this one. I am so disappointed. I had heard good things about this steampunk book.

So, basically I just can't take how badly written this book is. Not just badly edited, as I've read other reviewers say. Yes, it IS badly edited, and if there was someone with the title editor who worked on this book, they deserve to be fired. But beyond simple mispellings and poor grammar are the constant misuse of words and sentence construction that makes no sense whatsoever. It took me forever to get through a page of this book because I had to reread things so many times to figure out what they were supposed to be saying. It was PAINFUL to read, and eventually I just couldn't take it anymore. I tried to pick up this book three times, determined to finish it just so I could give it a negative review on my blog, but I just don't have the will to subject myself to it anymore.

Beyond the actual words, the world building isn't very good either. The author doesn't do a good job of making clear exactly what kind of world the story is set in. It's as if she thought "oh, it's steampunk" and thought that was enough of an explanation. For a long time I was assuming that it was a fairly historically accurate Victorian world, since the steampunk elements are covert, part of a secret ministry. But then she would so blatantly violate the rules of Victorian society or dress or speech that it was incredibly jarring.

As an example, there's a scene in which a lot of time is spent describing how the female protagonist looks in her corset. While she's walking around outside. Ok, so apparently she's wearing a corset as outer wear, so I guess this isn't a truly Victorian world. Except the men in the pub are all staring at her because she's so daring as to wear that. And...look. If a woman walked into a pub in Victorian England wearing only a corset...she would probably be sent to an insane asylum. Not even prostitutes went around like that, not in public. In the 21st century, if I walk into a gas station wearing one of my corsets, I get stares and looks and maybe leering, which is what happens in the book to this Victorian women. NO.

I also spent a lot of time while reading this wondering how the female protagonist got to be so utterly un-Victorian. She's basically a 21st century female character, and there's absolutely no explanation given for why she's in the Victorian period and yet doesn't act like it. Why is she wearing trousers and using explosives and talking back to her bosses? Was she raised from birth to be a spy? If you're going to write this kind of character, you really have to give me some kind of explanation, some backstory. Her backstory is, as far as I can make out, she is a spy and likes shooting things and blowing things up. Does she have family? Who knows?

It's honestly a shame that this is such a half-assed book, because I actually like the two main characters, especially the snobbish librarian male lead. But everything else made me want to pull my hair out.

There are too many really great steampunk books out there for me to waste my time with this one, and I refuse to give it a better rating just to promote the genre, since, as I said there are books out there you SHOULD be reading and spending your money on instead of this one.
Profile Image for Becky.
827 reviews156 followers
June 2, 2016
One of the books I have since downgraded since I read it, because when I recall it, I cant only think of the characters flaws that made me angry.

This was my first steam punk book. I was not purposely avoiding the genre, kind of like urban fantasy (until Dresden), I just had not come across any that looked particularly appealing. Quite honestly, I may have passed over this but it was on sale on Kindle, and I thought “why not?”

I’m glad I did. It was certainly entertaining, and a decent read. I have no doubt that lovers of the genre will enjoy it. For me, I had fun, but I was not enchanted with the world of steampunk. I certainly appreciate the imagination that goes into it, and I enjoy the steampunk qualities of this book, but I’m not so charmed that I’d want to explore the genre further. How many times can you read about a steam powered jukebox and still enjoy it? I will give the author props; there was the perfect amount of technological description. They were long enough to paint a picture, yet not so long that they overtook the book. It was just right.

As for the characters, I enjoyed them. I never became overly attached. Eliza Braun actually annoyed me. Here she is constantly reminding the reader what a great agent she is, but she is sloppy, overly dramatic, rash, takes it all too personally, the idea ‘covert’ is utterly lost on her. There is a time and place for grand, explosive action. It’s not everywhere about London though. As someone who has been in the military, I can readily say that I would NOT want Eliza Braun at my side. Maybe in a combat zone, but not while entering the combat zone. I’d want her to show up as soon as I started getting shot at, but I wouldn’t want her charging in headlong alerting the enemy to my presence, etc. On top of that, she constantly thinks that she is better than Brooks, but she is the one constantly giving away her true feelings with “sharp intakes of breath” and constant gestures to Brooks while they’re undercover. In the end, she is not that great.

I feel much more sympathetic with Books. I work in a library now, it is MY library, even if it isn’t really. I just didn’t feel that his character was flushed out enough. Constantly shrouded in mystery, but not evolved or revealed enough at the end for me to feel connected to him. The reader needs to be let in on a few more of his secrets.

In the end it’s a great book for a rainy day, brain vacation, or something a little different. It stays interesting, alternately witty and grim, bordering on disturbing, just enough to keep you entertained. I have to admit that I absolutely love the carriage chase scene. The action is all very well played out. The plot was intriguing. My aforementioned issues in no way stopped me from enjoying this book.
Profile Image for Lindsay Stares.
412 reviews30 followers
May 2, 2011
I had forgotten the premise of this book between the time I requested the galley and the time I read it. This did not improve the experience, as I was not mentally prepared for steampunk. Bear that in mind.

Premise: Archivist Wellington Books and Agent Eliza Braun are thrown together by their jobs at the Ministry, but must learn to work together and trust each other in order to track down and foil the secret society endangering steampunk Victorian England.

Is it me? I would think steampunk should be a good fit for me, but I just found this book tedious.

The characters began unlikable, and despite glimmers of interest now and then, never graduated to anything higher than fine.

The plot feels haphazard in my opinion. It meanders for a long time without a clear direction, and then once the main set piece picks up, it's just a pile of cliche after cliche after cliche. I knew almost everything that was about to happen, and not in a satisfying way. Plus the bad guys just didn't seem dangerous to me. They seemed venal and obvious, with some big plans tacked on at the end, and I couldn't muster much of a sense of tension for the plot.

I ended up skimming a lot.

The book isn't badly written in a technical sense, and if I'd been in the mood for a trope-y romp, I might have really enjoyed it. It just had a very odd balance, between history and not-history, between playing up tropes for fun (as is implied by the cover) and beating them to death (as was my personal experience); a tone that I couldn't sink my teeth into. I wanted more about how this world is actually different than history, not just a few gizmos. I wanted more heart to the characters underneath the cutesy names and styles, and substance sometimes shined through, but I never connected.
Profile Image for Katyana.
1,442 reviews181 followers
June 28, 2011

This is the fun new start to a steampunk series. It was a slow-starter for me, but I liked the world building a lot, and I loved the main characters. It was fun seeing the usual dynamic turned on it's head: Eliza Braun was the ass-kicker, and Wellington Books was the brain (I am sure you could guess that from the names *laugh*). It was a lot of fun watching them banter.

I only wish that we'd gotten a little better groundwork laid, in terms of who the players are in this series. The bad guys seem to be very nebulous. We've got: the House of Usher (who seem to largely be irrelevant); the Phoenix Society; the mysterious shadowy bad guy at the end; Lord What's-his-butt trying to take down the Ministry; maybe Doc Sound (though I doubt it). Generally, the first book of a series at least lays out who your primary players are. I feel like this one only really introduced Books, Braun and Doctor Sound. But oh well.

The only other concern I have is... So I'd like to know what's going on there.

That said, will definitely continue the series. :)
Profile Image for Karissa.
3,885 reviews191 followers
May 4, 2017

This is the first book in the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series. Right now there are five books released in this series. I really enjoyed this start to this steampunk series. There is a lot of action, a secret society, automatons and many crazy devices. Additionally I really enjoyed the characters; they have complex pasts and are intriguing and fun to read about.

I listened to this on audiobook and the audiobook was very well done. Langton was a joy to listen to and did a great job on character voices and with emotion. I would definitely recommend listening to this series on audiobooks if you enjoy them.

I am a huge fan of steampunk books and this was one of the better steampunk books I have read. It is much less paranormal romance in tone and has a much more urban fantasy type pace to it. It seems like a lot of the steampunk series I have read are more on the romance end of things. While there are some hints at a romance in this book it is mostly an investigative urban fantasy.

I loved the pairing of Books and Braun (an excellent, if blunt, play on names here). Eliza Braun is a blow everything up, attack first, ask later kind of woman who gets sent down to the archives for acting too brashly and disobeying orders on her last case. Wellington Books mans the library...eh...archives for the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. They could not be more different. However, when Eliza unearths an interesting case that’s been filed with the other unsolved mysteries they suddenly find themselves with a common cause.

There is a lot of action, intrigue and mystery in this book. The book is chock full of interesting devices, weaponized automatons and other crazy steampunky inventions. It was great fun to read and I ended up enjoying it a ton.

Overall this book was highly entertaining and I would recommend to both steampunk and urban fantasy fans. This was a fun read and I plan on continuing with the series.
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews286 followers
August 30, 2013

The first chapter starts with a bang (see, I can do puns, too), and we're thrust into the world of Books and Braun.

Yes - Books (the Archivist/librarian/stuffy one) and Braun (the muscle/spunky/fighter). (There is also a character named Bruce Campbell, which may or may not be a nod to the man with the chin, and a couple named Barnabas and Angelique Collins - though they are of little consequence to the story.)


One thing I often expect from books set in Victorian England, and which I often don't feel like I get, is a certain expression of language and attitude. Often the writing is a bit too modern to really feel period, and I like my period-y books, even ones with a decidedly modern bend, to feel period. This one didn't quite manage. (And I don't think pepperpot was a word around at the time and, even if it was, you really need more adjectives for Braun.)

Speaking of Braun - I like a good anachronistically spunky woman in these adventure stories as much as the next gal, but Braun was just a little bit much. Too modern, I suppose.

But back to the first chapter, from Books's perspective. For a minute there there were hints of The Parasol Protectorate, and it seemed like it would follow the sort of tongue-in-cheek humor of that wonderful series, but that tone barely lasts the chapter.

Then the tone seems sort of Adventure style story - sort of like Larklight, though that's a younger series - but there's that whole over-the-top excitement and silliness about it that makes things like using Books and Braun as names perfectly acceptable.

But that didn't last, either - except via the chapter titles.

Then it turned serious, with shades of The Glass Books of the Dream Eaters thrown in for good measure.

In other words, it didn't seem to know what it wanted to be. I don't know if this was because of the two authors or what, but it didn't seem to want to settle.

Of course, I guess in a way that fits since the characters didn't always seem to know who they were or how they wanted to be, either. (And while I sympathize with Books and his daddy-issues, the Jekyll-Hydeness was a bit odd.)

Personally, I think if the tone had kept to the more light-hearted Grand Old Adventure story it could've worked better. But, really, just picking one and sticking with it would've been better.

As for the Steampunky elements - I thought these were mostly handled pretty well, and were parts of the story as opposed to the story being about the tech. (Which I, personally, prefer as I'm not much of a hard sci-fi reader.) That said, I would've liked a little more originality with the tech (as well as some constraints, since the Analytical Engine worked more like a modern day PC/butler and less like an advanced calculator).

But, really, it's not all bad. I did enjoy it well enough, and while the characters were sort of charicatures more often than not - and while this mystery sort of felt more like an introduction to the characters as opposed to a thing in its own right (as evidenced by the various hints to a larger plot afoot and various background goings on) - I did enjoy it enough to give it another shot.

I may pick the next book up at the library instead of buying it, but I do think I'll see how it fares. (One thing I will hope is some better editing. The first time I came across "treamours" for tremors I thought it would be a one-off typo, but then it kept happening. And "shear ridiculousness" instead of "sheer ridiculousness"? Really? I expect better copy-editing from a professionally published work.)
353 reviews36 followers
December 27, 2018
This book has been uncommonly hard for me to review. I don't read much steampunk, apart from the excellent Parasol Protectorate series by Gail Carriger, and I certainly liked this one well enough to keep reading it to the end, partly in hopes that its various mysteries might be resolved (most of them weren't). The initial scene, the wonderful fight on stage at the opera, and the climactic scenes were full of well-told action; the only other real action scene was a rather confusing (to me) carriage chase through Alternate Late Victorian London, where most of the novel is set. In between those bits of action come long stretches of story-telling in an amusingly pseudo-antique writing style that was fun for the first 100 pages or so but slowly grew tedious after that.

I had the most fun following the unusual relationship between the two main characters, Eliza D. Braun and Wellington Books, and I agree with other reviewers that as their relationship develops Eliza's character doesn't while Books's character reveals unexpectedly deep layers. Eliza's an almost-too-good-to-be-true kick-ass, independent-minded stalwart of the sort you automatically root for in an urban fantasy with a modern setting, her only possible fault being an excessive fondness for explosives, and she's distinctly out of place in the steampunk version of the British Empire, so you root for her as a New Zealander confronting the stuffiness of aristocratic England, where she's being disciplined for her snap decisions in the field by being partnered with outwardly nerdy archivist Wellington Books in his musty domain.

That domain is the archive section of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences of the series title, a clandestine government outfit that "protects the Empire in secret" by investigating "the odd, the peculiar, and the unknown" ever since 1840, and its archives contain magical artifacts including the Amulet of Set and the Necklace of Morgana le Fay. So it's reminiscent of Warehouse 13 in both the field operations and the archives, though the devices of interest in this story are more mechanical than magical.

Besides the overlong stretches of cuteness with little action, the main thing that keeps my rating at three stars ("I liked it, but...") is the trouble I had keeping all the villains straight in my mind. It seems our heroes face the ancient and secret society called the House of Usher, from which Eliza rescues Wellington and blows up their base in Antarctica (yes) to start the story; the plot, however, thrusts them into the more overt but despicable Phoenix Society with its agenda to enslave Britons; and then there are four individuals acting more or less independently: the Duke of Sussex plants an agent in the Ministry to try to bring it down, the director of the Ministry has a strange unknown agenda, a shadowy evil mastermind seems to be taking over from other villains, and a very independent and oddly named female assassin works on contract with three of the above. Most of the villains are apparently being held over for the sequel or the whole series, so there's some resolution at the end but not much.
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366 reviews59 followers
July 29, 2018
A proper steampunk caper.

Agent Eliza D. Braun is pushing her boss to the limits. She’s an extraordinarily good agent for Queen and country but her methods tend to involve a good deal of dynamite and a scattering of dead bodies. Despite several warnings, her missions continue to end in explosions and newspaper features that bring to forefront the secret agency of the crown that she works for, The Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences. Luckily, few people even know of it’s existence, hence secret agency, but in order to keep it that way she might just get an assignment that does not let her blow things up or play with guns.
Like, getting shut away in the basement of the agency with the Archivist, who’s idea of a good time is organizing and cataloging case files.

Wellington Books is a gentleman of fine breeding, but he prefers the quiet and seclusion of his basement department filled with unique devices found on peculiar missions and overflowing paperwork. These things make sense to him. Guns, dynamite and death defying missions do not. His new partner is going to test his limits and then some. Her restless nature makes her a poor candidate for sitting in the darkness for hours on end.

But being tucked away, filtering through unsolved cases of the Ministry, leads to new information about Eliza’s last partner’s solo mission which ended with her partner locked away in the insane asylum. Agent Books can’t resist a good mystery and soon they are undercover inside another secret society investigating people intent on taking down the crown. One agent with extensive field experience, another with barely any experience but exceptional cunning. Will it be enough to get them out alive?

I had fun. Simple as that. Sure, in some parts my mind wandered a bit but it brought me back when the action picked up again. Books was a good anchor to Braun’s excessiveness, but I love a feisty lady.

Normally, I pay no attention to chapter names but these ones caught my eye every single saucy time;

“InWhich Our Plucky Pepperpot Eliza D. Braun Must Pay The Piper for Her Feats of Derring-Do!”

“Wherein Wellington Books Acts a Perfect Gentleman, but Is Not Above a Little Skullduggery Too”

AND, there is an Agent Bruce Campbell – mad props for that, intentional or not.

Profile Image for Irrlicht.
184 reviews7 followers
August 22, 2021
1,5 stars out of 5.

I wanted to like this book better, I really did.

The idea of a super-secret society operating right under the nose of Queen Victoria and the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences, trying to “rebuild” Britain to its “former glory”, only opposed by one field agent and one librarian archivist, because everybody else just doesn’t have a single clue, sounded wonderful. And in a Steampunk setting, no less. (Plus, the cover is beautiful and really intriguing.)

I imagined a daring hero/ine with a brainy sidekick (or even a full-fledged partner of equal value, for once) fighting the bad and saving the Empire James-Bond-style – or something the like.

And it actually came to that.

More or less.

Only what seemed like a thousand pages later, which is just too effing long.

“Phoenix Rising” took its sweet time to a) set a plot, b) get to the point and c) getting an effing move on! (Meaning: it was often really lengthy and thus pretty boring.) Which – consequently – made it very hard to find at least SOME kind of access to it and to find the motivation to continue reading.

Also, the two authors spent a huge amount of time to establish the two main characters, but completely forwent to establish the world they’re operating in. Yeah, it’s the Victorian age with a bit of Steampunk thrown in, but what does that actually MEAN?
I’m not exactly firm on Victorian etiquette and his was my very first Steampunk novel, and while I don’t expect Steampunk authors to start from Adam whenever they’re writing a new book, a few general guidelines would have been very welcome.


Even if the plot turned out to be quite interesting after all, this book seems to be mostly carried by the two main characters and their newly-formed partnership/friendship.

Which brings me neatly to the second biggest problem I had with “Phoenix Rising”. (More on my biggest problem later).

This isn’t a partnership, let alone a friendship. This is something like a “work relationship”, at best. And a forced one to boot.

The authors try so very hard to convince us – especially towards the end – that Books and Braun really came to like each other (or “became fond of the other”, or whatever), but no matter how often they tell us that, not once during the whole book, did I get the feeling that they DO. Not even at the very end.

All Books and Braun ACTUALLY do is:
- slander each other
- try (and fail) to establish a kind of witty-banter-thing, which pretty much always comes across as stiff, aggressive (and most of all completely unnecessary) posturing
- and work more against than with each other.

The only times when they actually get something accomplished are times when they work ALONE and APART from each other. The “divide and conquer” thing is way more effective, because they really do make a horrible team.

Mostly “thanks” to Eliza Braun, field agent (my aforementioned biggest problem) – for reasons I will never, ever understand, because she’s neither a good field agent nor a nice person. Oh, the authors insist on telling us that she totally IS, but judging by how she is constantly trying to “unsettle” Books by shoving her breasts in his face, salaciously rubbing her (beautiful, of course) body (including the ample bosom) against him and making insinuating remarks at every possible moment, she is not exactly professional. (And thus Dr. Sound was imo absolutely right to demote her and transfer her to the archives. He could have – and maybe should have – rescinded her agent status.)

She’s careless with everything stored in the archive (e. g. she destroys one of three vases which – put together – would have had a map to El Dorado on them and is not even remotely sorry). She never listens to Books let alone follows orders, and she makes absolutely no effort of being polite. (Well, the authors say she does, but she really doesn’t.) She’s almost losing her calm at any given moment, even when playing a part or just staying calm is absolutely vital. (E. g. she’s on the verge of losing it and about to slap the host because he slandered the Suffragettes, but ISN’T when an uncle abuses his Laudanum-drugged, minor niece. She merely leaves, because “she would have most assuredly been his next prey”. M-hm. Yeah. Super-agent.)

All the times Eliza drones on and on how Books should go out in the field and needs to act like a “proper” agent, including improvising and thinking on his feet and whatnot. And the first time he actually DOES, she absolutely hates and resents him for it and immediately wants to punish him! He’s playing a role. Something she wanted him to do in the first place. So instead of being happy that he finally got a clue and acts like the agent she apparently wanted him to be she’s just jealous that he had beat her at her own game and even seems to believe he IS the role that he’s playing. Even if the “partnership” is relatively new, she should really know him well enough by now (page 255 ff.) to be able to distinguish a role he’s playing from his actual character. Seriously, what stupid kind of agent is she, anyway? (Of course, she can punish Wellington a while later. And “punishing” him by throwing him on a bed and practically riding him is not only immature, it’s also cruel and mean. For someone who has claimed to like Books she’s acting like a total bitch towards him. All the time.)

Seriously, Eliza is one of the most ridiculously aggressive characters I’ve ever read.

She blows hot and cold all over, is prone to serious mood swings and apparently completely hung up on being “a colonial” from New Zealand. I mean, seriously, she repeats that every five or so pages, so obviously she hasn’t come to terms with it yet.

That goes for the other “colonial” characters as well, btw.

And I just don’t care. It’s annoying.

It’s okay to tell me once, “There are also people from New Zealand, Australia and whatnot, and they’re looked upon as kind of inferior and worthless by the snobby and seemingly “proper” Brits.” But if you repeat that, like, a hundred times throughout the book, I can’t help but thinking you believe me to be either extremely slow or just too stupid to have understood that the first time. It’s actually quite insulting.

No, sorry. This book definitely wasn’t for me. The only things I liked were Books and the last hundred pages, and that just wasn’t enough.
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