How can you fight to the death, when you've given up on life?
Pages: 478 (Roughly.)
Publisher: Booktrope - Edge Imprint
Book Links: Goodreads
Ready for a dark dystopian full of action, consequences and riveting redemption? I bloody hope so, because Ms Cain brings it!
The Phoenix Project is a hooking psychological thriller with a scary world that encroaches too closely on the reader's reality. This world could happen; especially when related to global events today. But its social commentary isn't the only selling point, with Cain's creativity culturing a chilling novel that thrives on the lowest places of the human psyche.
I will admit it gets off to a bumpy start, but once that plot engine turns over, and you're on the road, the ride is rough and compelling.
Synopsis (Not a copy from the book, but I always keep my interpretations close.)
The world has been ravaged by terrorism, and Britain's public call out in fear.
To quell the rise of riots, the government initiates The Phoenix Project, a harsh penal system that pits all criminals, regardless of crime, against one another in a fight to the death.
Not only is it a roaring success, with prison populations dwindling and crime falling, but it's become a television phenomenon.
The public are baying for blood.
Raven Kennedy, a newbie at Salverford Prison, is shrouded in mystery and has a dark past.
He's hopeless, despondent and intent on punishing himself for as long as possible.
If he can survive in the ring, anyway...
Plot - 4/5 Stars
The story follows two time frames: Before Raven's incarceration to prison, and his time during prison. This works magic with the protagonist's history. Cain gives us a solid look at the broken man he is in the present, haunted by ghosts and pain, while also building the reader slowly up to the revelations that make him that way. The structure is also great, so there's no jarring, only smooth transitions from past to present that coalesce into a unique and thrilling story.
Instantly, the author throws us in to an action-packed start that is bloody brutal. Not only is it invigorating, but the intrigue it bestows is infectious. There's a definite Hunger Games-like feel, but Cain grabs those elements and makes them wholly her own.
From there things do get a little repetitive. The plot slows down and sticks itself in a rut of big fight, back to the prison cell, mounds of self-reflection. And this goes on for awhile while the story and its cast find their feet.
But once it does? Holy crap! Around the halfway mark the novel's intensity reaches for the sky in an adrenaline-soaked leap. The tension and suspense, the story and the characters, all of them become thankfully focused.
The end is tricky, not bad tricky, just tricky. The redemptive finish is great, but the removed epilogue is better. Upon reaching the end, the author informs us that the original epilogue has been taken out and moved to her website. I personally found that it tied everything up just that bit better, making the journey that more satisfying.
Cain also poses some pretty fantastic questions, the main one for me being: When you commit a crime in response to a crime, is it really justified? Are you any better than the original criminal? It's a theme throughout the novel, a competition to see who's more morally right, and who isn't.
The dystopian world is also interesting. Religion has become taboo and freedom of expression has been viciously undermined, and it's all down to fear. We tackle extremism and the innocent followers of each faith that are condemned thanks to a few unsavoury bunch.
Pace - 4/5 Stars
Quick, then slow, and it stays slow for just a tad too long. Don't get me wrong, overall the book is super quick. The action prevalent throughout is spaced perfectly, and once the connection between reader and cast is established, you're hooked.
Characters - 4/5 Stars
It took me a little bit of time to connect to the cast. To begin with the dialogue feels too mechanical; scripted rather than spontaneous. The cast chemistry is also irregular, the unpredictability and fluid personalities don't solidify until maybe halfway through the story.
But, thankfully, there's a wonderfully eclectic mix so you're never really bored. The expansive character list is bound to have someone you like, and once the reader's understanding catches up, the cast feel more familiar.
I'm fifty/fifty with Raven, our main character. I love tortured souls and protagonists who are on that rocky road to redemption, but Raven's self-pity can sometimes be overwhelming. Cain does a phenomenal job with his morally murky history, and I adore the looks back to what sends him to prison, but it takes a stretch of time (nearly the end) for him to really come to his senses.
His self-harming thread delves deep into the dark dilemmas that decide a person's actions. The author handles it without fear and gives the reader clear reasons and strong emotions, no matter how uncomfortable, and I think it's a wonderful, if saddening, look into the mind of someone who is in a depressed position like Raven's.
There is a little repetition, with the thread offering too many of the same heart-to-hearts while other characters suffer.
Writing - 4.5/5 Stars
Apart from the initial stiffness, mainly with character interactions and dialogue, Cain is a superb author. The flow of sentences and paragraphs is enviable in their smoothness and vivid descriptions.
Overall - 4/5 Stars
It goes without saying, but I'll say it anyway: I'll be picking up more from Ms Cain.
For more D.M. Cain reviews: Index
For more D.M. Cain reviews: Index
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