Initial reaction: Very nicely plotted action/adventure thriller. I’ll admit it kept me on the edge of my toes many times wondering what would happen and some of the scenes were deliciously dark, despite a few pacing issues. Nonetheless, this will certainly make an interesting jumping point for the TV series that’s based on it. I enjoyed the read.
John Dixon’s “Phoenix Island” took me by surprise in terms of how immersive and enthralling an adventure it portrayed. The story centers on 17-year old Carl Freeman as he’s punished for crossing the line one too many times. As a young boxer, he uses his abilities to defend the weak and recalls his former police officer father. Yet after his last scuffle sends a boy to the hospital, he gets shipped off to Phoenix Island. The Island appears to be something of a military boot camp at first, a place for delinquent youths who are orphaned, at the end of their rope or, like Carl, have crossed the line one too many times in detriment to their futures. Carl thinks he’ll do his time and get out – stay within the rules and he should be fine.
But Phoenix Island isn’t what it seems on the surface. With nightmarish creatures, brutal commanders, and secrets in journals and word of mouth through the ranks, Carl has to survive long enough to make head for tails of what Phoenix Island wants from him, and it’s more than he or anyone could bargain for.
This novel has the right balance of action and creep factors to draw the reader. Carl’s a sympathetic character, and he builds up a decent enough rapport with other Phoenix Island goers – I liked Ross and Octavia as well. He figures out that something is amiss with the Island fairly quickly, and the torment scenes and action sequences are portrayed very well. I did have some issues with some of the pacing in the story in spells, particularly towards the end where it’s not as smooth in the transitions as the novel was in the beginning and middle, but I really liked the journey.
Well-developed and intriguing dystopian thriller – probably among the best I’ve read this year, and I hope to read more from John Dixon in the future.
Overall score: 4/5 stars
Note: I received this as an ARC from NetGalley, from the publisher Gallery Books.