Book Review: Phoenix Extravagant by Yoon Ha Lee

Been a while since I’ve done one of these, so lets talk about Phoenix Extravagant. So this isn’t a viral well known book but it has gotten a good amount of acclaims. I don’t really need to boost it on that front but lets talk about what I liked about it.

As a quick summary, Phoenix Extravagant is a historical fantasy set in a magical version of the Japanese occupation of Korea. Heavy vibes about colonialism and such. It’s main character and POV is gender nonbinary, it covers the clash of cultures and eggshells one must walk on when being occupied by an invading force as well as the extremes both sides would go too.

But what really catches my eye about this book is the magic system.

I’m a sucker for a good consistent magic system. While some soft magic settings like ghibli films tend are nice, I like consistent reasons for why things are the way they are and this settings magic system is fascinating. Magic is this sense is derived purely from art, or more specifically, the art of the deceased.

Now, setting aside the literary allegory of countries destroying the art of the past to fuel their future essentially old art is ground down into pigment that is then used to draw symbols to create magical effects. In story it’s used mostly to animate constructs who act as enforcers for the invaders, but it can be used for other effects as well.

And that is what terrifies the protagonist who’s an artist.

Art is often looked down upon as a soft career, something many do with little to no impact on the world, but good art can change the world, for better or worse. And when we went into lockdown, we learned first hand how grounding and necessary art is for maintaining stability. How many people slammed through all of netflix? Read through volumes of novels, both online and offline? Listen to podcasts nonstop? Art touches and comforts up and has a power that is intangible to the eye. This book creates a new way that art can literately be used both as a constructive and destructive force.

Anyway, go read it. It’s on Amazon, I’m sure you can find it with a google search. Thanks for listening.


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