Book Review: A Phoenix First Must Burn Edited by Patrice Caldwell

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Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic.
Evoking Beyoncé’s Lemonade for a teen audience, these authors who are truly Octavia Butler’s heirs, have woven worlds to create a stunning narrative that centers Black women and gender nonconforming individuals. A Phoenix First Must Burn will take you on a journey from folktales retold to futuristic societies and everything in between. Filled with stories of love and betrayal, strength and resistance, this collection contains an array of complex and true-to-life characters in which you cannot help but see yourself reflected. Witches and scientists, sisters and lovers, priestesses and rebels: the heroines of A Phoenix First Must Burn shine brightly. You will never forget them.

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I’ve only read Kindred by Octavia Butler but I can totally see how much of an influence she must have had on budding readers and writers, especially young Black woman and I thought this collection of stories was a fitting tribute to her. Mostly fantastical tales with a bit of sci-fi and dystopia thrown in, these stories take their inspirations from various different cultures, folklores, historical as well as contemporary events and give us a glimpse of the different ways in which young Black women take destiny into their own hands and live their lives the way they want. It’s full of beautiful representation and despite elements of slavery and discrimination in some of the stories, I loved that most of these stories are fierce and passionate and full of hope.

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WHEN LIFE HANDS YOU A LEMON FRUITBOMB by Amerie

As a time travel story, it was a bit confusing but that’s because I don’t read a lot of such stuff. But the discussion on war and peace and family, and specifically about what makes someone human was quite emotional to read about.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

GILDED by Elizabeth Acevedo

The story of a young woman born into slavery who even though has the chance to secure freedom for herself, realizes she can do more. This was beautiful as well as painful, but ultimately full of resilience and hope.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

WHEREIN ABIGAIL FIELDS RECALLS HER FIRST DEATH AND, SUBSEQUENTLY, HER BEST LIFE by Rebecca Roanhorse

The story of a young woman having to choose between revenge, justice and love – this was a compelling story with a very sweet ending.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

THE RULES OF THE LAND by Alaya Dawn Johnson

A story of love and sacrifice, this was about what lengths a person will go to protect the ones they love, even sometimes resorting to forcing and caging them. But ultimately it was about a young woman deciding to take her destiny into her own hands and be ready to take on anything that her uncertain future may throw at her.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

A HAGIOGRAPHY OF STARLIGHT by Somaiya Daud

I loved that the magic in this story was derived through song and dance and it was described beautifully. The story was about the power of love and how even gods can’t remain unaffected by it and while I enjoyed the writing style, I can’t say I completely understood the story itself.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️

MELIE by Justina Ireland

A story about a young girl who despite being discouraged by the high sorcerer, believes in her magical abilities and takes it upon herself to save her people. This was frankly a lot of fun to read.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

THE GODDESS PROVIDES by L.L. McKinney

A story of the perils of fanaticism, this one follows a young woman who had forsaken her goddess to finally realize the truth of her faith and what she has to do to make sure the faith is not misused. Quite a fascinating tale of treachery and retribution.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

HEARTS TURNED TO ASH by Dhonielle Clayton

A world where soulmates exist and heartbreak is literal, this is a cautionary tale of how a young girl should not give away her whole heart to a man when she is love, but also make sure that she loves herself too. Definitely an important message but felt a little too preachy.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

LETTING THE RIGHT ONE IN by Patrice Caldwell

This one features a young girl who has depression and as no one around her seems to understand her, she finds solace in her favorite vampire novels. This was both very sad as well as exciting, while being very relatable to me personally and it ends on a very hopeful note which I liked.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

TENDER-HEADED by Danny Lore

Infused with magic, this is the story of how one young woman has to realize that her self worth doesn’t depend on how much money she can spend or give her friends, and that she needs to know who her true well wishers are.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

KISS THE SUN by Ibi Zoboi

I can’t say I completely understood the magic of this story with fire girls and shedding the skin and kissing the sun, but the self hatred some dark skinned girls have for their own color and the yearning for white skin was all too relatable. But I didn’t expect the story to take such a dark turn.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

THE ACTRESS by Danielle Paige

A story about a young actress who finds out the truth about an important part of herself and how she is able to cope with it, while also handling the harsh realities of Hollywood, this was both sweet and emotional.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

THE CURSE OF LOVE by Ashley Woodfolk

True love and a horrible curse go hand in hand in this story and both a young woman and her elder aunt have to figure out if the men they have fallen for are worth it. It was interesting to read but I just thought that ending was a bit sad more than hopeful.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

ALL THE TIME IN THE WORLD by Charlotte Nicole Davis

This was like a sci-fi version of our present timeline, with the story touching on aspects of the Flint water crisis as well as the police shootings of Black people, while also adding some superpowers to the narrative. I thought it was both very realistic as well as intriguing and could work well as a longer story.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

THE WITCH’S SKIN by Karen Strong

I don’t really wanna say a lot about this story but it has another young woman trying to do what’s best for her and her unborn child and showing a lot of resilience in desperate times. Very interesting story and another one which I thought could be a novel because it felt more like a beginning.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

SEQUENCE by J. Marcelle Corrie

In a world where Society decides every action of yours and an app predicts everything you’ll do, this was a fascinating look at a young woman trying to find her own path and maybe even choosing to go against the grain.

Rating: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

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11 thoughts on “Book Review: A Phoenix First Must Burn Edited by Patrice Caldwell

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  1. Oh wooooow love! How big was this book? Did you write notes after each story? The elements of each story sounds rather detailed! How did the authors manage world-building and character building in the small space they were provided?? Each one sounds so unique and I’m intrigued by so many here! Do you have a favourite Sahi? Did you mention that and I overlooked it? *goes back to search*

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Haha… the book actually wasn’t too big, around 350 pages which is pretty standard. And I think I’ve gotten to love short story anthologies a lot because it really requires a different skill in the author to convey a lot in as little words as possible. Not all stories are amazing and some I don’t understand either, but a few are just masterpieces. Elizabeth Acevedo’s was definitely my favorite. And a few more which I gave 5 and 4.5 stars.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. 😍 oh wow. How was it only 350 pages?! I get it! It’s definitely a very good skill. I can’t even write a review that’s not long because in my head I feel elaborate is what conveys the message but it’s not! Ahhh. ♥️

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Great review! You’ve made me even more excited to check this one out – I pre-ordered it because it sounds wonderful, but it’s only thanks to your review that I’ve realised how many authors I’ve either loved or really want to read are in here.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you 😊😊 I hope you’ll enjoy it as much as I did. And tbh, even I was surprised by who all the authors were in this collection, because so many of them are on my tbr too …

      Liked by 1 person

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