Phoenix Falling (A Wildlands Novel) by Laura Bickle (book review).

May 10, 2019 | By | Reply More

So many novels incorporating supernatural elements tend to tread the same path by having their mythical creatures following in the footsteps of humans and migrating to cities. It is refreshing then to find the action almost entirely encompassing the wilds of America, in this case Yellowstone National Park. The focus for this set of novels, of which this is the third (or fifth depending on how you count it) is the magic of Alchemy.

Events were set in motion more than a hundred and fifty years previously when the alchemist Lascaris settled at the edge of Yellowstone and founded the town of Temperance. The effects of his time there, before his house was burned down with him in it, are still being felt.

The first of the trilogy, ‘Nine Of Stars’, involved a shaman/wolf, a member of a pack that had long ago forgotten how to revert to human form. Nine does it in a moment of great danger and doesn’t know how to change back and rejoin her pack. The focus of ‘Witch Creek’ is a carnivorous mermaid that was one of Lascaris’ failed experiments. These two books take place in winter and spring respectively. ‘Phoenix Falling’ is high summer when the grass is dry and there has been little rain. As the book opens, there are already fires rampaging across Yellowstone.

A constant character in all three of these novels is Petra Dee. She is the daughter of an alchemist who is now living in a care home. Petra’s home is a trailer which occupies the space Lascaris’ house once did. Her husband, Gabe Manget, is also a product of Lascaris’ experiments and has to return to the alchemical Tree of Life at regular intervals for renewal. She and Gabe are helping track the course of the fire and suspect that it is not natural.

The cause, a phoenix, another legacy of Lascaris’s experiments and, because it is loose, Gabe suspects that Lascaris has found a way to return. The immediate problem, though, is to find a way of dealing with the phoenix. One of tasks given to Gabe when Lascaris was alive was to capture the souls of townsfolk in mirrors. He hopes that if they can reconstruct one of the alchemical mirrors they can persuade the phoenix to look into it and be captured.

Lascaris’ heir is Owen Rutherford, the local police chief. He has his own issues as he is haunted by the ghost of a child. He has promised her that he will find her murderer. In this volume, he begins to discover that her death was not a straightforward killing but a sacrifice to a toad god in exchange for a boon. For Nine, the story of the toad god and the phoenix are linked in that on a previous occasion, the toad and the phoenix fought, the former devouring the latter.

Laura Bickle has cleverly woven together strands of Native American folklore with alchemical magic to produce a novel which is full of tension and action. In any good novel where there is serious danger it is only right to expect collateral damage. There is always a concern that the prose will become melodramatic. Bickle is able to balance her ingredients well and provide a refreshing, if somewhat crispy, adventure in the wilds of Yellowstone National Park. This series is worth pursuing.

Pauline Morgan

May 2019

(pub: HarperVoyager, New York, 2019. 370 page paperback. Price: $ 7.99 (US), $10.99 (CAN), £ 6.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-0-06-256735-2)

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Category: Books, Fantasy

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