Phoenix burning by Bryony Pearce

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Little Tiger Press, 2016. ISBN 9781847156709
(Age: Young adult) Highly recommended. Themes: Revenge; Junk-Punk; Dystopian; Religious cults; Survival; Challenge; Trust and betrayal. The first book in this series, Phoenix Rising, introduced the reader to the world of post-cataclysmic environmental disaster, where the ocean is a seething mass of caustic junk, roiling in the corrosive waters that take life rather than support it. In Phoenix Burning, the second book of the series, we join the junk pirates as they variously fight one another and work together to solve a mystery and to recover the missing component to enable their salvaged energy system to become functional. In the process Toby and Ayla must work through their sabotage and distrust of each other to complete the task that they cannot achieve alone. This takes them into the enclave of the sun-worshippers - a cult that engages in bizarre rituals as part of their religious fervour. They must work together to steal what they need, while being involved in complex challenges, where loss means they become silent monk-like devotees and winning means they become blind but 'holy'. (This is a little like a Hunger Games fight to avoid death and where winners bear the burden of their win.) Toby and Ayla's relationship is always going to be challenged because of their family history, but Pearce has cleverly woven a tale where we are able to detect a growing but fraught dependence on one another and a hint of closeness, but with trust in jeopardy.
The winner of this text is the very different setting, where normality has been so badly damaged by environmental disaster. The ocean is a chemical wasteland, detrimental to life. The problem this has created for the world and the survivors has created a fantasy environment that is unlike any other. Sailing on a pirate ship where everything is cobbled together using junk salvaged from the sea or the spoiled shores allows for some impressive imagination leaps. Pearce writes in a compelling and exciting way and from the prologue we realise that there is danger to follow.
This is a book that can be highly recommended to YA readers (male and female), particularly those who have enjoyed Hunger Games and other dystopian literature.
Carolyn Hull