The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn & Janie Chang: Thrilling

The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang is diverse, captivating and thrilling female-led historical fiction. Read my full review.

Publication: HarperCollins, February 2024

Genre: Historical, Thriller, Drama & Romance, Mystery, Action

The Phoenix Crown Synopsis

An unforgettable story about the intertwined lives of two wronged women, spanning from the chaos of the San Francisco earthquake to the glittering palaces of Versailles…
San Francisco, 1906. In a city bustling with newly minted millionaires and scheming upstarts, two very different women hope to change their fortunes: Gemma, a golden-haired, silver-voiced soprano whose career desperately needs rekindling, and Suling, a petite and resolute Chinatown embroideress who is determined to escape an arranged marriage.

Their paths cross when they are drawn into the orbit of Henry Thornton, a charming railroad magnate whose extraordinary collection of Chinese antiques includes the fabled Phoenix Crown, a legendary relic of Beijing’s fallen Summer Palace.

His patronage offers Gemma and Suling the chance of a lifetime, but their lives are thrown into turmoil when a devastating earthquake rips San Francisco apart and Thornton disappears, leaving behind a mystery reaching further than anyone could have imagined . . .

Until the Phoenix Crown reappears five years later at a sumptuous Paris costume ball, drawing Gemma and Suling together in one last desperate quest for justice . . .

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Book Review

I’ll cut straight to the chase… The Phoenix Crown is a mustread for historical fiction lovers and, really, just about anyone who loves reading strong female characters.

From this novel’s opening page, I was captivated by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang’s strikingly evocative narrative.

Mother Nature was a carnivore: she ate what she wanted when hunger made it necessary. Alice had known that in her bones since that day five years ago, when the earth shrugged its shoulders and a city cracked in half.

The fictional tapestry within which the authors have woven real historical people and events is vivid and alive; the folly and decadence of high society against a backdrop of racial tension reaching fever pitch in San Francisco’s Chinatown at the turn of the 1900s.

They lived among people who despised them. If they registered every offensive comment, expended emotion at every insult, they’d never manage to get on with their own lives.

The feisty women centre stage are barely contained by this novel’s pages. While the publisher’s synopsis for The Phoenix Crown suggests two female leads, I was delighted to find readers are ultimately introduced to four leading ladies, along with a strong enigmatic secondary. One of the many things that make this story so appealing is that these women come from all walks of life but have one experience in common. Life has taught them that to have any chance of living their best life, they must take matters into their own hands and fight for it.

At least I have the law on my side, the world made conveniently for me and those like me. Nothing in this world is made convenient for women.

It was such a pleasure to connect with these characters and then follow them through many heart-in-the-mouth moments as they battle to overcome not just adversity and their own demons but also a natural disaster and some particularly detestable adversaries. Oh, and don’t worry, despite the era, Quinn and Chang have ensured their leading ladies cross paths with some men with wholly redeeming qualities who are more than comfortable playing second fiddle.

The Phoenix Crown is a novel that captivates with its prose, is enlivened by diversity and is driven by female empowerment. Unreservedly recommended.

My Rating

Story 4.5 / 5 ; The Writing 4.5 / 5

Where to get your copy of The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn & Janie Chang

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This title is featured in my Top Picks of the January-February 2024 New Fiction List.

More historical reads with strong women leads:

The Phoenix Crown

More The Phoenix Crown reviews

“Readers of historicals with strong female leads will savor this.”—Publishers Weekly

“Impeccably researched, magnificently rendered, and breathlessly paced” — Jamie Ford, bestselling author of Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet

“Action-packed, this novel skillfully uses its strong female leads to examine racism, sexism, and classism. … Readers won’t want to put this one down.” – Historical Novel Society

“Seamless, page-turning masterpiece of history and suspense – shot through with women rising up from the margins of society to claim their own singular futures, I could not put this triumphant novel down” – Marie Benedict, bestselling author of The Personal Librarian and Carnegie’s Maid

About the Book Authors, Kate Quinn & Janie Chang

Kate Quinn is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of historical fiction. A native of Southern California, she attended Boston University, where she earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees in classical voice. A lifelong history buff, she has written four novels in the Empress of Rome Saga and two books set in the Italian Renaissance before turning to the 20th century with The Alice NetworkThe HuntressThe Rose Code, and The Diamond Eye. All have been translated into multiple languages. She and her husband now live in California with three black rescue dogs. Check out her website.

Janie Chang draws upon family history for her novels. She grew up listening to stories about ancestors who encountered dragons, ghosts, and immortals, and about life in a small Chinese town in the years before the Second World War. She is a graduate of The Writers Studio at Simon Fraser University. Born in Taiwan, Janie has lived in the Philippines, Iran, Thailand, and New Zealand.  She now lives in beautiful Vancouver, Canada. Check out her website.

* My receiving a pre-release copy of The Phoenix Crown via Netgalley for review purposes did not impact the expression of my honest opinions.