As a kid I read Lord of the Flies by William Golding as part of my English Literature curriculum. After concluding my studies, I thought a lot about the depth of the story, and about the impact of the ordeal on the boys. Especially Piggy, the poor bastard. I was probably just about getting over the trauma of Lord of the Flies by the time I picked up The Phoenix Embryo.
Now, things are pretty clear at the start of Lord of the Flies: there’s been a plane crash, the little posh lads are stuck on an island, and shit’s gonna get real wacky, and fast. As things kicked off in The Phoenix Embryo, I must confess to looking about me and wondering what exactly was happening, such was the lack of real clues. That level of ignorance experienced but the reader, I feel, is by design, and meant to evoke suspense. It did, to a degree, but the level of confusion, for me, was a little counter-productive. As readers, we are on the outside as much as the characters, having layers peeled away and revealed at the same pace as them. Ultimately, this slow reveal was hard to overcome.
This aside, I carried on with it, and the story took me deeper into the isolated world of adolescents boys who have been imprisoned and largely left to their own devices. Their world is cruel and detached, with the children being left to create structure and some form of social order from what little they have. Again, echoes of William Golding’s great work. Except he didn’t have demons, unicorns, and other such fantastical guest stars.
There is a lot going on in this book. An awful lot. As mentioned above, there is a dizzying smorgasbord of fantastical creatures and races. Frankly not all of it made sense to me. Disclaimer: I have an infant in the house and am aggressively sleep deprived, so it may just be me! We are seeing the world through the eyes of a young boy, Acanthus. I will confess to having little patience for the lad. I get it, life has been confusing, and beyond grim, but sympathy aside, he was a hard character to follow.
There has clearly been a considerable level of design and build put into this world, and this story. I very much feel the author could wax lyrical for hours about the world, however, the length of the book required the story to flow both quickly and clearly. For me it was just a bit too slow to ever find myself being fully swept up by the story.