Before you can have a post-apocalyptic world, you need an apocalypse. The Book Of Phoenix is the story of one such apocalypse: in a futuristic world where race relations are depressingly similar to our own, researchers have been messing with the DNA of an African girl thought to be Mitochondrial Eve, the ancestor of all humanity, in order to create X-Men style mutants.
The Phoenix of the title is one such mutant. Living in an experimental facility dubbed Tower 7, her powers lie more or less dormant until the man she loves dies – and then all hell breaks loose.
The story is framed as a narrative being heard for the first time by one of the apocalypse’s few survivors, but since there’s more narrative than frame, you can more or less forget about that and just follow Phoenix on her voyage of self-discovery.
Technically, this is a prequel to author Nnedi Okorafor’s Who Fears Death, but that, too, can be mostly ignored as the story unfolds on its own terms. Phoenix is an eloquent storyteller, and her story is both personal and epic; she’s both heroine and villainess as the scientists scrabble desperately to contain their creation.
It’s not hard to catch the Biblical parallels, as a special tree represents life and the stealing of an apple leads to terrible knowledge. But the scientists are hardly benevolent gods, and this is a story about the end, not the beginning, of the world.
For a short novel, it’s packed with ideas – and brimming over with rage. Phoenix’s righteous anger isn’t hard to sympathise with, even as she approaches her final, fateful decision.
Don’t be fooled by the stereotypical YA-sounding synopsis; this is something darker, more political, and far more original.