AUTHOR: John Dixon
STORY BLURB: Phoenix Island follows the story of Carl Freeman a self-designated protector of the weak. However, after his last encounter with people whom he determines to be bullies, he is in court and being sentenced to a special centre that specialises in straightening out young teens that have gone astray. This particular camp is Phoenix Island, a place of rebirth – leave your old self behind and be reborn. – is determined to change his life and does his best to follow the rules, but eventually after discovering that Phoenix Island is home to something much more sinister his choices are slowly turning and he must fight for what is right once more.
EXPECTATION RATING: New Author – no expectation
The story took a while to get happening and about a third of the way into the text, I was about ready to give up on it, but the backstory and expectation of what was to come helped push me along. I didn’t particularly like the main character and I found his ‘saviour of the weak’ ideology a bit tired, and it actually worked against him, making him less sympathetic and actually representing him as a bully’s bully. So I’m not too sure of the motives of the author, perhaps it was the tough guy heart of gold approach? But then perhaps this is the thought process of Carl, he believes that he is doing something right. On the way to Phoenix Island he does alter his thinking and decide to look after himself rather than others. While it may appear that this makes him a selfish character it does not, it shows that he is learning from mistakes.
The book changes pace nearing the halfway point and gets much more interesting as Carl is taken into the other side of the camp. We are shown the inner workings of Phoenix Island and are given an escape from the clichéd army style training – that I believe only exists in the media and not reality. The action starts to switch back and forth between Carl and Octavia (one of the few women at the camp). The camp that Carl escaped from starts to get much more brutal and in turn interesting, as we are shown the limits of what one maniacal team leader can achieve. While I found Carl’s back story a bit of a struggle and forced, Octavia’s was different in that facts and fiction were blurred so the reader is never exactly sure what was truth and was taken on the journey of discovery with Carl. If Carl’s story was written in this fashion, it may have come across as more natural.
Some of the decisions being made by Carl appear unusual and I was not convinced that they would have been made by a real person, and when this happened it took you out of the story and reminded you that this was a work of fiction. However, it was made clear that Carl is not of the highest intellect so perhaps on some level his actions were justified, but then it could also be stated that the author had not done a good enough job of conveying this.
I particularly enjoyed the passage where Carl was in the confinement cage, there was a real sense of not knowing what was real and what was fictional, and I believe the writing accurately depicted the action and what it would have been like to be in that situation. Many of the fighting scenes were excellent and explained the action and style in a manner I have not read before (I find that most fighting scenes read like blurry imagery).
While I am not a fan of characters meeting and falling in love to the point that one would sacrifice themselves for the other, it’s simply is not realistic, but it was established that this type of sacrifice was a part of Carl’s character so I’ll let it pass.
Overall I enjoyed the work, I just wished the pace moved a bit faster in the beginning – perhaps starting at the camp. I would think that most people understand what a ‘scared straight’ camp is; if not a few pages should do it.
ACTUAL RATING: 3.5/5 I’ll be reading the second and third (when it is released) books in this series, as while I found the start slow, once it took off there was no going back. I hope Devil’s Pocket is all go from the first page.