Review: “Ashes of Raging Water,” Michael J. Allen

Pros: Fascinating worldbuilding and interesting characters
Cons: Some details
Rating: 4 out of 5

Michael J. Allen’s Ashes of Raging Water: An Urban Fantasy Action Adventure (Blood Phoenix Chronicles) is an enjoyable and interesting urban fantasy. Water phoenix Quayla is on probation and trying to prove herself to her boss, Vitae, the life phoenix of her Shield. She finds out about a Fae incursion in an animal shelter and decides to take it on herself. She ends up dying, but being a phoenix she’s reborn. Of course getting herself killed, and leaving behind a mess of Fae bodies and security camera footage, doesn’t help her case in Vitae’s eyes. Neither does the fact that she insisted on handling the mess herself. There’s a mystery afoot: why are Wyldfae stealing animals? In the course of trying to recover from her death, Quayla has to tell her boyfriend Dylan, who luckily already knows what she is, that she’s died–which means her physical form has changed. There’s also a poor photo of her old body on the security footage from the shelter, and a cop who’s determined to prove she’s been killing the animals. Quayla also manages to engender the animosity of both Fae courts with her lack of subtlety, her landlady ends up involved, and there’s a doctor at the morgue who’s doing experiments with troll bone marrow and a dead cat. In short order, the world seems to be going to Hell in a handbasket!

One thing that continues to confuse me is the way each phoenix takes on a new human form when they are reborn. The new form is supposedly capable of being pretty much anything in the human array of possibilities. Despite that, I get the impression gender swaps aren’t that frequent (shouldn’t they be 50-50?). Supposedly there’s some magical and psychological mumbo-jumbo hand-wavy bit that means people still recognize the person once they’ve changed. But there’s at least one instance in here where someone doesn’t recognize the person, and another where it seems not-so-straightforward.

The Fae are interesting. I don’t want to go into too much detail, but I will say I enjoyed some of the details of how they handle things. Particularly when the two courts get upset with each other. I enjoyed all of the characters. Vitae has some understandable reasons for his animosity toward Quayla–she replaced the old water phoenix, who experienced a True Death and whom Vitae loved. Also, Quayla is fairly rash and irresponsible. (The “no, I can handle this” got a little old as she continually insisted on not asking for backup or help.) Vitae is still pretty awful, though; he’s arrogant and judgmental, and actually thinks that Quayla’s behavior merits being destroyed. Thankfully it isn’t his decision to make–he answers to higher beings. My favorite character is Bradley, the morgue doctor who’s playing Dr. Frankenstein with Fae pieces and his extensive Dungeons & Dragons knowledge.

This book ends pretty much in the middle of things, so it’s good that the other volumes are due out shortly. If I didn’t have such an extensive TBR pile I’d be tempted to preorder them–I do want to find out what happens next. There are certainly some mysteries left to explore!

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