My eye was caught by the cover of this book at one of my library's teeny-tiny branches and wow that is a pretty cover. As I've said in the past, I tend to prefer illustrated covers to ones that are photographs since it seems like the most elaborate covers I've seen, like this one, tend to be illustrated (I suppose it's simply cheaper to pay an artist to draw something rather than to shoot an image/shoot several images and composite them/search for stock images that you can composite together). And as far as I'm concerned, judging a real, physical book by it's cover, whether or not it's actually illustrated in the same style inside, is a perfectly reasonable way of choosing what to read!
Fox & Phoenix by Beth Bernobich
Summary: Kai used to be a street rat king but after winning the competition for the princess's hand he's had to settle down and become respectable, learning magic at his mother's shop instead of running through the sewers. But something is amiss in Lóng City and he and his old friend Yún are going to have to bring the princess back from her studies and the journey to her school isn't a simple one under the best of circumstances and dangerous when there are backstabbing political factions that would rather they not succeed.
The Good: As the cover indicates this book had a rather cool setting, a mixture of magic and technology with a lot of detail put into it*. Plus, hopefully the cover, title, and character names made this clear but it's also an Asian inspired setting which makes me happy since those are less common (which means that it tends to feel a little fresher/we're getting a bit more diversity in YA which is always excellent). And that was easily my favorite part of the story, seeing a nicely thought out setting with plenty of details, although I did feel like Lóng City and the Phoenix Empire had a disproportionately large amount of the descriptions.
The Bad: Just for the record, the title is a bit misleading since it refers to the companion spirit animals of characters who appear rather late in the story, although I suppose it's more romantic saying than a more accurate version, Pig & Crane. Also, some people might remember that a few weeks ago I talked about the book Throne of Glass and my mixed feelings on having the story start the way it did, basically starting a series with what would have normally been the second book since quite a few important things have already happened to the main character and made her who she is (and the story doesn't elaborate on much of it). Fox & Phoenix is rather similar, Kai and his band of friends have already had some grand adventures and now they're settling into their lives after and, while the characters could see how everyone was growing up and changing the reader couldn't as much because we never got to see where they started from. I think this would have been less of a problem if their previous adventures hadn't been brought up with quite as much frequency as they were because it made me feel like I had missed part of the story which is a rather unsettling feeling. And because of that the entire story felt underdeveloped to me, I wasn't able to care about the characters as much as I should have and even though I found the setting cool more often or not the characters were just talking about how cool something was instead of letting me come to that conclusion on my own.
So just a 3 out of 5 for me since while the setting was nice and the book worked the plot wasn't original enough to be memorable a few years down the road and I just felt like it could have handled how it talked about earlier events a bit smoother. I am a bit curious why I've suddenly come across two books published relatively close together that have used that set-up when I've rarely seen it before in YA, I wonder why that is....
*if I say "magic punk" will anyone else get what I'm trying to say? Like, somewhat anocrasnic technology with lots of magic mixed in (basically steampunk with magic instead)? No, hmm, must figure out a better phrase then.