Review: The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma





or Elena Aadya Ravence, fire is yearning. She longs to feel worthy of her Phoenix god, of her ancestors who transformed the barren dunes of Sayon into a thriving kingdom. But though she knows the ways and wiles of the desert better than she knows her own skin, the secrets of the Eternal Flame elude her. And without them, she’ll never be accepted as queen.

For Leo Malhari Ravence, fire is control. He is not ready to give up his crown—there’s still too much work to be done to ensure his legacy remains untarnished, his family protected. But power comes with a price, and he’ll wage war with the heavens themselves to keep from paying it.

For Yassen Knight, fire is redemption. He dreams of shedding his past as one of Sayon’s most deadly assassins, of laying to rest the ghosts of those he has lost. If joining the court of flame and serving the royal Ravence family—the very people he once swore to eliminate—will earn him that, he’ll do it no matter what they ask of him.


Previously known as The Boy With Fire, this books is now being traditionally published as The Phoenix King by Orbit Books.


The Phoenix King by Aparna Verma is a brilliant start to The Ravence trilogy, a high sci-fi fantasy saga that grips your interest from the very start. As an American born South Asian I was immediately drawn to it’s beautiful world building and the story arc, inspired by Indian culture, deities, mythology and folklore. At times, I found it very difficult to believe this was Aparna’s debut novel because the writing is just sublime and shows immense potential of who she can be in the future. Though The Phoenix King isn’t a fast paced book, it’s slow and steady world building and character development with it’s beautiful story made this book a pleasure to read. Even though we all expect twists and turns to come when reading a book, Aparna has a talent to spring those twists when we least expect them and I loved her for it.

The world building in The Phoenix King was fantastic. Although it reminded me a lot of Dune series by Frank Herbert, it was amazing to see how Aparna loosely based her world on South Asian region. Ravence being Rajasthan in India, Janta being Pakistan, Cyleon being Sri Lanka, The Islands being Maldives and so on. The science fiction aspects were beautifully married to fantasy elements and didn’t feel out of place at all. I believe this is something that is very hard to pull off given people’s common ideologies about religions fading away once the technology reaches its peak. The politics among the nations were beautifully explained as well. I really enjoyed all the little things about Ravance traditions, religious rituals, dances, the garb and it’s origin story. The glossary at the end of the book was a great idea because I sometimes wondered to myself whether someone who wasn’t familiar with South Asian terminologies would be able to enjoy the book as much as I did.

The characters were multi layered and morally grey and their arcs and backstories were brilliantly executed. The emotional connections among characters was superbly done too. The heartbreaks, loss, grief and betrayals were beautifully crafted and there were some scenes in this book that managed to break my heart in two.

Elena was a great female protagonist. Initially she is impulsive, impatient and naive but as the story progress she becomes calculated and patient. With Leo’s character, I feel Aparna managed to embody almost every South Asian parent who would be willing to literally shed blood or sacrifice themselves to give their children a better and a secure future but at the same time failing to consider whether their child actually wants that future the parent had envisioned for them. Also their communication barrier with their children is so commonplace and this was beautifully portrayed with Leo’s and Elena’s relationship and interactions.

Yassen too was an excellent male protagonist. As someone who was trying to make the best out of desperate situations he was put in, his character navigated them beautifully. The chemistry between him and Elena was slow to build but I really appreciated this instead of an insta-love situation. There was no initial physical attraction. It starts with mistrust but gradually builds into accepting each other for who they are at their core as the story progresses. In the end their relationship is so raw and emotional which made their connection even stronger, for me personally. I absolutely loved it!

However I would have liked to see Samson integrated more into the story because I loved his character with his unyielding confidence and there were some scenes in the book I felt his presence was needed but strangely absent. Ferma, my dear, dear Ferma! She was a brilliant side character. She was badass and it was simply impossible not to fall in love with her.

Concluding my review of The Phoenix King, I was really impressed by Aparna Verma’s writing, and enjoyed the story and each character’s journey throughout the story immensely. It is an understatement to say that I am looking forward to the next installment of The Ravence trilogy. I hope against hope everyone else love and enjoy The Phoenix King as much as I did.

My sincere thanks to Netgally, Orbit Books and Aparna Verma for providing me this advance reader copy.

Book Cover:

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