Phoenix Extravagant: Painting Outside the Lines

Phoenix Extravagant: Painting Outside the Lines

Phoenix Extravagant book coverThis month’s Appendix Lit book club selection was Phoenix Extravagant, by Yoon Ha Lee. This book rides a rare line between categorization. Part fantasy, part science fiction, and part exploration of colonialism and cultural identity, it’s a book that paints outside the lines and offers a fresh perspective on the genres.

Appendix Lit Review

The story follows Gyen Jebi, a talented artist who finds themselves caught up in a conflict between the occupying forces of the Razanei Empire and the Hwagugin Rebellion. Reluctant to get involved, Jebi’s unconventional approach to heroism – if you can call it that, focused on art and creativity rather than fighting and conquest, offers a unique perspective on the world around them and allows the story to explore the value of self-expression and individuality in the face of oppression and violence.

I don’t know if this wass intentional, I found the book suggesting that certain actions were being taken by characters with the “best of intentions.” It was interesting to see that justification written in – unless that is my own decoding of war, I personally believe if you have to go to war you have already lost.

I give this book a D10. It’s got something to it that lets me think I could draw from the plot pretty strongly. The characters work better as NPCs. However, the nuance of the world feels harder to draw from so I don’t know that I would give it a higher dice.

A picture of the GM Tim

I did find the pacing of the story to be a bit slow at times, and while the complex and nuanced portrayal of colonialism and cultural identity makes for a compelling and thought-provoking read, it took me more to get into this book than some others I have read. I wonder if that is because of the style. The protagonist was not in action all the time, and we viewed conflict from almost a sideline point of view. Typical science fiction and fantasy novels have set me up for different expectations of action and pacing. I would not have been able to see the nuance of the conflict otherwise. Perhaps the pacinging isn’t poor, just not the norm.

As a D10 book, Phoenix Extravagant offers a wealth of potential for gamers and game masters seeking inspiration for their own adventures and campaigns. The clash between the technological efficiency of the Razanei Empire and the traditionalist beliefs of the Hwagugin Rebels creates a rich and multifaceted setting that is ripe for exploration in a gaming context. While the characters may not be ideal as player characters, they offer some cool possibilities as non-player characters who can support or challenge the players in their journey, I personally really enjoyed the character Hak. And the setting, with its unique blend of magic and technology, offers a rich and diverse backdrop for adventures and campaigns.

One of the standout features of Phoenix Extravagant is its exploration of the value of art and creativity in a world dominated by power and violence. Jebi’s focus on their art offers a refreshing change from the typical heroic archetype found in many fantasy stories, and allows the story to explore the potential of self-expression as a form of resistance and empowerment. Overall, Phoenix Extravagant is a book that defies easy categorization and offers a fresh perspective on the genre. With its unique protagonist, complex themes, and richly imagined setting, it’s a book that will leave readers thinking long after they’ve finished. Whether you’re a fan of speculative fiction or a seasoned gamer looking for new ideas, Phoenix Extravagant is a book worth exploring.


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