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…
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Awesome story about a nonbinary artist thrown into political machinations featuring art, automaton dragons and revolution in an East-Asian historical fantasy-ish setting. Content warnings include: occupation and colonialisation, oppression and discrimination, destruction of art, blackmail, more or less obvious hostage situations, earthquake, violence and death, battle, imprisonment, torture, casual fatphobia, non-explicit sex on-page. Mentions of: death of parents, death of spouse. This is one of the few books with a truly fitting and inspiring official description/blurb. It's concise, interesting and wakes the instant desire in me to read, yet doesn't give too much away. The promise of a nonbinary protagonist for such a plot sweetened the deal for me even more. I loved Jebi as a protagonist. They weren't exactly likeable, especially at first. They are quick to judge and very brusque about getting their way. They only care about their art, and getting to paint and earning money through it to live, but not about much else, especially not other people, or loyalty to their homeland. They aren't a fighter or politically involved or have any ambition to change anything about their country's occupation. They are pretty selfish and kind of a coward, though they do not actively wish anyone harm. And yet, I adored them. Jebi's passion for art drew me in. Their internal conflicts agitated me, and I was always eagerly awaiting what they would do next. Their lines of thoughts were intriguing, and I just found them super interesting, despite being entirely ordinary and sort of underwhelming compared to the cast of outstanding characters around them. They were a great choice for who to follow in the big scale conflict presented in the books. They provided a perspective I really liked reading about. The setting was East Asian, and while I'm not knowledgeable in history, I'm pretty sure it and the surrounding political situation was heavily inspired by Korea during Japan's occupation. The worldbuilding was well done. Not much is explained, but I had no trouble gathering information about the culture, history, magic and automatons from context and what was shown on-page. That said, my progress on the book wasn't as fast as it usually is - the writing was quite complex, and, English not being my first language, I had to look up quite a lot of words (particularly adjectives) which I had never seen before, which usually doesn't happen a lot. It however never was a chore to read or hard to follow. Both through setting and plot/writing, this is unquestionably an adult book. I loved the casual queerness. Jebi being nonbinary was part of what drew me to the book, and I was not disappointed in the least. Being nonbinary or taking same sex partners was totally normal in this setting. The queerness was treated as just as ordinary as the magic, or the existence of magical beings. I loved that Jebi never had to come out and that the gender they were assigned at birth never played any role, just as much as I loved that magic was combined with technology, magical symbols with programming and code, astronomy with astrology, and so on. The beginning was a bit slow, but still engaging. Even as it took me a bit to warm up to Jebi, get used to the writing and find footing in the setting, I was intrigued and invested. Things started picking up pretty quickly about 20% into the book, from which point on the stakes kept get raised higher and higher. Tension was created, upheld and released a lot, which worked very well for reading this book slowly. So many of those smaller tension arcs read like climaxes, which they obviously never were - there was always more to come, and things never turned out as expected. I loved the high amoung of plot twists which were always lead up to masterfully, always heightened my engagement, and always were a pleasant, thrilling surprise - exactly the sort of twists and turns I adore in books. The one thing keeping this from being a perfect 5 star read for me was that I wished for a bit more emotional engagement. Some things happened a little too fast for me personally, so I wasn't always as emotionally invested as I wanted to be. One example for this was the romantic subplot (which I overall still adored!) This is more of a personal preferrence though - the pacing of the book worked perfectly the way it was, and the presenting length of the book fits as it is. Overall a great read that I thoroughly enjoyed. It was exiting and thrilling and exhilarating to read the entire way through, and was exactly what I want from a fantasy book these days.
Kidnapping a dragon-that-is-not-a-dragon is a GREAT way to cope with having a crush on the girl who killed your sister in law. 10/10. But for real, wow, I don't even know where to begin with this book. The short version is: I loved it. I loved it I loved it I loved it. If you ask me what this book is about, I will probably gesture very vaguely and say something along the lines of "it's about an artist who just wants to paint and befriends a fake dragon, who is a pacifist". That's part of it. That's hardly all of it. Admittedly I went into this book hardly knowing anything about it, and being vaguely familiar with this author. I saw a dragon on the cover and I'm still 10 years old, okay? This dragon, though. This book combined two of my favourite things: dragons (duh) and artificial intelligence (double duh). AI, in most of the media I've consumed so far, usually either takes the shape of a humanoid entity or is a computer programme. And I'm not calling either of these bad. But seeing an AI in the form of a dragon was something else - it really put some things in perspective and makes you take a second look at humanity and personhood. I will admit it: it's not so hard to assign some level of humanism to an AI that looks like a human, or someone you don't even see (like a programme running a spaceship, for example). This dragon, this wonderful, wonderful dragon, is most definitely not just a pile of manmade parts. The relationship between Gyen Jebi and Arazi, their dynamic, the way it developed and became deeper, was phenomenal, to me. I can see people not being impressed by it. I don't know why I am. I just am. Their friendship lodged itself somewhere between my ribs, and I'm going to cover that area with my palm to hide it - them - from the world and to protect it. It is very, very close to me. I also thoroughly enjoyed the relationship between the MC and their love interest - and I apologize for getting personal, but I honestly don't think I could write and objective review, or even a subjective one in a different way. It was- different. I'm not going to say this was the first time I read a relationship development like their, but I don't read it a lot. It's gentle, in the way it is written. It's part of the story, presented in a way that doesn't make it look like either a main or a sub plot. And I loved it! It made me realize many thing about myself. I've thought it before, but this time I admitted to myself that I'm not comfortable with romance. In general, or as a plot. Unless - it's done like it was here. It's in front of the reader, but in a way that makes it seem like it's in the background. In a way where it didn't take away from the other plot of this book - I'm not sure I'm succeeding in describing this well, but whatever this was, I appreciate it. Immensely. I enjoyed the worldbuilding, the way our knowledged of this world also grew the further we went into the story. Here is an artist. They are very good. Here is a ministory, who employs artists. They recruit him. The ministry uses art in more than one way. The artist is apalled. And did you know, this art, the way it's used - is magic? The idea of a piece of art having some kind of power given to it through the artist is not a stretch. We see it, every day. Go to a museum, a gallery and look at the walls. Run into an artbook. Stumble upon an artist on the internet. Receive a drawing from a friend. Accept a childs doodle. Look at people, see how they take in art. I used to draw, and one time, I gave one of my drawings to a kid (well, I was a teenager but it felt like there's a world between us), and I didn't think much of it, but I saw their eyes light up when they took the paper. So, yes - there's power in art. This book sets this as a rule. Another rule this book sets: it's even more powerful after the artist dies. In fact, it's so powerful, it can be used for actual magic. But for that you would have to commit a sin, and destroy it. Do you see the problem, here, if the one to do it is an artist who cherishes every little doodle? I'm going to be thinking about this book for a very, very long time. Thank you to the publisher and Netgalley for an ARC of this book, and thank you to the author for writing it.
I haven’t felt especially like reading big fantasy, or dragon fantasy, for quite a while now. Even when the author was Yoon Ha Lee, whose Machineries of Empire I love exorbitantly, I just thought… nah. More fool me. Lucky that books don’t disappear forever, and that I have now been able to read this. Jebi is an artist. All they want to do is make art. They apply for a position as an artist within the Ministry of Art, which will mean art but also working for the conquerors of their nation. When they fail to get that position, they must find an alternative option if they want to keep eating... and this leads to twists and turns they never expected, discovering friends and enemies and further difficulties of life in a conquered land. This is set in a secondary world but it seems to me that Jebi’s home is analogous to Korea, with Japan as the conqueror, although it’s not a direct parallel. There’s magic, usually fairly low key and initially I wasn’t sure if it was intended to be ‘just’ superstition (later events show not). There’s also technology, sometimes working in tandem with the magic, as with the automata that seem like golems to my largely European trained eye; I don’t know if there’s a Korean or other Asian analogue. There’s tanks and guns but electricity is unevenly distributed - it’s a really interesting look at a world with unevenly distributed technology.… like our actual world. It’s also, as already implied, a deeply interesting take on the issue of colonialism and empire and collaboration and compromise and I really, really loved that aspect. Brilliant. Hugely enjoyable.
I received this ARC via Netgalley for an honest review in celebration of the paperback release coming out this month! This is a super original and satisfactory standalone SFF novel! It blends science fiction and fantasy perfectly. We follow Jebi who is an artist in an occupied nation and all they want is to express their art. Because life does not always go as planned they end up working for their opressor's Ministry of Armor and learn how their magic works using pigments from destructed art and use them to paint symbols on objects to animate them. And it is AMAZING!! I was so intrigued in this magic system and it was described so perfectly that it was greatly understandable. The dragon becomes part of the story around 1/3 of the book. And halfway through Azari (the dragon) is connected to Jebi in a interesting and entertaining way. Together they get involved in the rebellion of the occupied nation which was not what they planned at all! Jebi and the other characters are super interesting and well developed especially for a shorter fantasy story. The nonbinary main character falling for the enemy assassin (duelist) and having a ninetailed fox as a best friend made this the perfect read.
This was such a good time! My favourite part was definitely the main character, Jebi. They were just such an ordinary person stuck in a situation that was extraordinary, and it was cool seeing the story unfold from the perspective of a character that wasn't a great warrior, genius or some such. They were also just super sweet, and just trying to do the best out of a really bad situation. I didn't care that much for the side characters though, but they were all clearly well developed and driven. Another favourite was the dragon, a combination of automaton and magic, and I found it a really original take. This also leads me to another thing I really liked, and that was the combination of fantasy, scifi, and historical elements that this story contained. It was a mix that worked really really well. Also, bonus points for being super queer! Thank you to the publisher and netGalley for the arc!
One of the best fantasy stories in decades. A beautiful combination of historical fiction, high fantasy and science-fiction which combines to make a flawless story of love and rebellion. Yoon Ha Lee has created a world that I have fallen in love with and will be recommending to everyone!
I absolutely devoured this book. I've only ever read Dragon Pearl by this author and couldn't wait to get my hands on more. Phoenix Extravagant is about an (in our terms) enby person named Jebi (they/them), and the intersection of colonization, art, and war. It's about code switching and surviving under colonial rule. But most of all? It's about DRAGONS!! We don't meet Arazi until 1/3rd of the way into the book, but the storybuilding is necessary first. The plot takes off like a rocket after Jebi and Arazi meet. Be patient with the setting and anticipate (wartime) violence. Side note: the cover of this book is so beautiful that I want it on my freakin wall! Thank you to NetGalley for a preview ebook copy in exchange for an honest review.