Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix: Rise of the Empress, Book 2

Book review by
Andrea Beach, Common Sense Media
Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix:  Rise of the Empress, Book 2 Book Poster Image
Exciting fantasy sequel is less dark, more adventurous.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

Fantasy meant to entertain. But offers interesting comparisons with the classic fairy tale "Snow White." 

Positive Messages

Integrity, resourcefulness, faith, humility, and determination are all qualities needed for wise and effective leadership. True greatness lies in what you make of yourself, not in acquiring wealth or power. Love conquers hate. Stories contain lessons, hidden messages, and history; understanding them helps you think independently, and gives you empathy and wisdom if you can apply parts of stories to your own life. Strong messages also about the power of friendship, especially sisterly bonds between women, and about how communities stay strong by sticking together and helping one another instead of turning on one another and descending into lawlessness and chaos.

Positive Role Models & Representations

Jade is a great model for friendship, determination, listening to and learning from others, working at overcoming her fears, knowing herself, and wisely choosing people to help knowing that she can't do it all herself. She wants what's best for everyone and to build a prosperous country with strong allies and trading partners; she has no desire for power or wealth for their own sakes. Love interest Koichi is a great model of a dashing, supportive, romantic partner whose physical difference doesn't define who he is or what he can do. Wren is a physically powerful, brave female role model who learns to judge Jade not by what she assumes about her but by what Jade herself says and does. Xifeng is purely evil villain obsessed with holding onto power, wealth, and immortal beauty.

Violence

Real-world violence is infrequent but includes fights with swords and daggers, punching, kicking, and mention of blood with brief descriptions. There's not much gore but some disturbing images that aren't described in detail but mention things like a corpse covered in flies. Fantasy violence includes fights with magical elements or abilities, like an army that can take the form of snakes or humans, blood rituals including eating victims' hearts, and an epic battle between fantasy creatures. Important and beloved characters die. Lots of scariness from dark and eerie locations, characters in peril from real-life and fantasy elements, and creepy descriptions of animal and human skeletons.

Sex

A few kisses with no detailed descriptions. Some hand-holding and growing feelings of attraction and emotional intimacy.

Language

One mention of giving someone "hell."

Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

A villain uses toxic incense a couple of times that has a soporific effect, making victims unable to think clearly or move easily.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix is a fantasy sequel and conclusion to the story begun in Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Most of the characters are new and it stands pretty well on its own, but reading the first book will give readers a much better understanding and more vivid sense of the fantasy world where the story takes place. Lots of strong role models and representations of Asian culture, especially for girls. Highly prized and modeled character strengths include integrity, resourcefulness, faith, humility, and determination. Strong bonds of friendship and loyalty are also modeled. Real-world and fantasy violence includes fights and battles with real and fantasy creatures, creepy locations, characters in peril, and mentions of blood with no gore but occasional brief descriptions. Important characters die. A budding romance includes hand holding, feelings of attraction and emotional intimacy, and a few kisses that aren't described.

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What's the story?

In KINGDOM OF THE BLAZING PHOENIX, we find it's been 15 years since the ruthless Xifeng became empress of all of Feng Lu. Jade, the toddler princess whom Xifeng banished to remote monastery, is now 18. Jade loves her life in the monastery and wants more than anything to accepted by the monks there. But she also has no idea who she really is, and doesn't understand why the abbess always tells her that her life is meant for something else. Until a summons to return to the Imperial Palace arrives, that is, and Jade learns who she really is and where her destiny lies. Once returned to the palace, Jade quickly realizes that she's the only one who can end Xifeng's reign of terror. She'll have to escape the palace and find the five relics left scattered across Feng Lu by the ancient dragon lords. But even if she can unite the relics and call upon the ancient gods to return and defeat Xifeng, how will she ever wield a power she never wanted in the first place?

Is it any good?

This sequel and conclusion to a dark fantasy is a compelling read, even though it feels lighter and ramps up the adventure. In Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix, Jade is a straight-up hero with all the good and admirable qualities you expect from a fairy-tale epic and in sharp contrast to Xifeng's darkness and ambiguity in the first volume, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns. Jade also relies on strong bonds of friendship and never hesitates to accept help and advice from others, which further lightens her hero's journey and makes her a better, more relatable role model by far. Fans of dark fantasy still have plenty of that element to enjoy as Xifeng tries to hold on to her beauty and power. The overall story as a retelling of the "Snow White" fairy tale comes more to the forefront, too.

It's fair enough to suppose that in a sequel the author doesn't need to, and probably shouldn't, spend as much time building the story's world and can instead concentrate on character and plot. But the effect of that here is that the world feels less vivid and not as easy to fully imagine. If it's been a while since you read the first volume, it might help cement things in your mind to go back and read it again right before jumping into the sequel. The story definitely comes to an end here, with an epilogue that explains what happens to many of the characters and to the kingdom of Feng Lu in the years following. Best for fantasy fans of epic-quest adventures where danger and magic lurk around every corner.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about the violence in Kingdom of the Blazing Phoenix. How much is too much? Does it make a difference if it's fantasy or real-world violence? Is reading about violence different from watching it in movies, TV, or games?

  • Did you read the first book, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns? If you did, which of the two books in the series do you like better? If you haven't read the first, would you like to now? Why are fantasy series so popular?

  • What are some of Jade's character strengths? What do you admire about her? What about Wren and Koichi? How do they defy stereotypes?

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