Phoenix Flame by Sara Holland
Maddie thought her problems were over. She saved the Inn at Havenfall—a sanctuary between magical worlds—from the evil Silver Prince. Her uncle the Innkeeper is recovering from a mysterious spell that left him not quite human. And there are still a few weeks of summer left to spend with her more-than-friend Brekken.
But there’s more work to be done to protect the Inn—Maddie must put an end to the black-market trading of magical objects and open the Inn’s doors to the once feared land of shapeshifters.
As she tries to accomplish both seemingly impossible tasks, Maddie uncovers secrets that could change everything. What if saving everyone means destroying the only home she’s known?
DISCLAIMER: I received an eARC from the publisher via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.
EXPECTED MARCH 2ND, 2021
Phoenix Flame picks up where Havenfall left off, in the wake of the Silver Prince’s destructive violence against Havenfall and everyone in it.
Still reeling from the enormous discoveries that came to light, Maddie is trying to find hope in the way forward. Her uncle and a few other residents of Havenfall are diving into the soul-silver trade in the hopes of freeing Solarians from magical captivity, but Maddie’s heart is set on finding her brother. She doesn’t even know if he’s alive, but she has to try, for him and every other Solarian who has suffered at the hands of greedy magic users.
It’s not so simple, though. Stopping the soul-silver trade may put more than Havenfall at risk. Maddie must face danger to everything and everyone she loves if she’s going to set things right, and ultimately, she must decide if the cost is worth it.
Unless Phoenix Flame is secretly part of a trilogy, it falls far short of expectations.
At the outset, I held onto this big burst of excitement. Finally, after all this talk about other worlds, it was starting to look like we’d actually go visit them! We would get to see Maddie grow into her role as the Future Innkeeper, one with a rare amount of first-hand experience in other Realms, and we would dive deep into the nasty corners of the soul-silver trade!
One relatively brief trip to Fiordenkill and nowhere else later, I remain bitterly disappointed. In spite of so much promise, some of which is tied into legends from other Realms, we spend most of our time on Earth, wading through the mundane to leap between pieces of the Realms and the danger tied to them. The door remains firmly closed in a way that feels frustrating, teasing, and I can’t help but be let down by all the promise squandered here.
Not only that, though, but Phoenix Flame also fails to offer meaningful resolution. It feels like the end of a duology and like the second book in a trilogy. The result is a sense of confusion and shallowness with the ending. Pair that with the bonus chapter from another POV that lies at the end of the book, and the failure to resolve the (admittedly weird) love triangle, and that baffling sense of incompleteness overshadows anything enjoyable about this book.
“A world without family isn’t much of a world at all.”
Perhaps I’m not giving it enough credit, though. I did appreciate that Phoenix Flame dealt first and foremost with the soul-silver trade, and the evils that come with it. Sure, it could have used a great deal more depth, but that was an important reveal in Havenfall, one worthy of further exploration this time around.
And equally important was the family-first focus. Confronting the soul-silver trade is personal, given that Maddie’s brother, Nate, is one of its victims. She doesn’t even know if he’s alive, and digging deeper into this mystery will help so many Solarians even as it offers her answers to the questions that have burned through her all her life. At the same time, she’s also forced to reckon with what she’s willing to sacrifice for the friends and family who are still in her life, still close to her. It’s difficult to weigh personal feelings against doing the right thing. And of course, it’s even harder when you can’t have both.
It’s one of the things about Phoenix Flame that stands out in a more positive light. How can I ever say no to stories that feature the dedication of siblings so close to their centers?
At the end of the day, I’m not sure what my hopes are.
Do I want Phoenix Flame to get a sequel, so we get a more satisfying resolution? Do I want it to end the series here, so I can move on with my life? Admittedly, I think I prefer the latter. It’s easier to live with a bad ending than it is to get my hopes up for a good one (and then be disappointed again).
Still, if you’re invested in the Havenfall series, you don’t have to wait. Phoenix Flame is on shelves today, March 2nd! I hope it brings you an ending you can enjoy more than I did, or that it surprises you in the best ways. And if it doesn’t, hey! We can always chat about it, don’t you think?
CW: loss of a loved one, underage drinking, smoking, human trafficking, violence