Phoenix and the Frost Palace by Aisling Fowler from @HarperCollinsCh #BookReview #Fantasy #MiddleGrade
Phoenix and the Frost Palace by Aisling Fowler
HarperCollins, pb, £7.03
Reviewed by Sarah Deeming
Phoenix is still reeling from the destruction of her home by her former mentor, Victory, and her new destructive fire powers are causing problems, requiring Phoenix’s concentration to keep them under control. But it is that power that the witches need. Hidden in the Frost Palace, the witches have been guarding an evil sickness that killed most of their sisters; Shadowseam. And now the witches are struggling to contain it. If Shadowseam escapes and claims the rest of the witches, the rest of the world will be destroyed. As a fire elemental, Phoenix alone can Shadowseam to nothing and save the world. But Victory is still out there with Morgren, and it appears they want Shadowseam for their own reasons.
I have never hidden my love of middle-grade books. They deal with complex issues without the fussiness and angst that go with books for older readers. And they have to be clever because their intended audience is notorious for being brutal in their honesty. Sometimes, MG books can miss the mark, but not Phoenix and the Frost Palace.
One of the elements that stood out for me in the first book, Twelve and the Frozen Forest, was Phoenix’s past, then known as Twelve. Her family are all dead, and she played a part in it, however unintentional. Throughout Frost Palace, we continue to get snippets of Phoenix’s past to see how her younger experiences shaped her and continue to impact her development. Fowler doesn’t shy away from Phoenix’s sorrow. Instead, Fowler lets Phoenix work through her emotions towards a future where she can forgive herself.
The characters continue to be multi-faceted, my favourite of whom is Five. Five is trying to live up to his role as a hunter but is still a young boy, so he is sometimes brash and thoughtless. He says what everyone is thinking and causes friction every time he opens his mouth, but without an adult there to guide him, what else can you expect. And his relationship with Six is beautiful. Five accepts he loves Six, who doesn’t feel the same way back and gets on with it, turning his affection into protection. I can’t wait to see how he continues to grow and develop throughout the series.
Now, I will tell you about the bit that really hooked me. The witches. I remember feeling incredibly sad when I first read Lord of the Rings because the elves had left, and the world was less magical. The witches in Frost Palace gave me that same feeling. For 800 years, they had withdrawn from the world of Ember to protect it from the Shadowseam sickness. At the end of the story, it is unclear what the ultimate cost of their sacrifice was.
As with Twelve, Frost Palace is full of luscious descriptions of the most magical places. The world-building is amazing, and the tension builds as Shadowseam gets stronger, taking over parts of the palace. There is an agonisingly poignant moment with Dog, the stone guardian of the Hunting Lodge, described so clearly, and concisely; it stands out as a very adult moment handled in a way younger readers can understand.
If you haven’t guessed, I really enjoyed Phoenix and the Frost Palace. It is a strong sequel that pulls no punches, and no character is safe. Fireborn is a special series and one I highly recommend for readers of all ages.