A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell | Review

I received this book for free from Publisher in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell | ReviewA Phoenix First Must Burn by Patrice Caldwell
Published by Bonnier Publishing Fiction on March 10, 2020
Genres: Young Adult, People & Places, United States, African American, Fantasy & Magic, Short Stories, Social Themes, Friendship, Dating & Relationships, LGBT, Fiction, Anthologies (multiple authors), Science Fiction, Collections & Anthologies, Young Adult Fiction, Diversity & Multicultural
Pages: 352
Format: Hardcover
Source: Publisher
Buy on Amazon
ISBN: 9781471409295

Evoking Beyoncé's Lemonade for a YA audience, these authors have woven worlds to create stunning narratives that centre Black women and gender nonconforming individuals.
With fantasy, science fiction and magic at their core, the stories are sharp, atmospheric and visual explorations of histories, relationships and alternate universes that you can't help but to get lost in.
It 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, trauma and heroism, 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 are unforgettable and shine brightly.

I don’t know what it is about this pandemic, but I am really ripping through short story anthologies. Maybe because there’s a feeling of accomplishment when reading one or two short stories per day. A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell is a spectacular anthology that’s essentially a celebration of Black Girl Magic. There are all kinds of speculative fiction genres explored. Not a single story in this anthology was a dud. In fact, I walked away with a desire to read more from specific authors in this anthology and I think that’s really wonderful. I also am so glad this exists for Black teen girls to see themselves starring in every single story. That’s amazing and there needs to be more like this out there. Also — I do want to say that I read these stories from the perspective of a white person, so please take my opinions with a grain of salt. I have literally no ability to be objective – this post is absolutely subjective.

When Life Hands You A Lemon Fruitbomb by Amerie

The opening short story of A Phoenix First Must Burn certainly sets the tone for all the stories to come, I think. When Life Hands You A Lemon Fruitbomb by Amerie follows what happens when earth is invaded by aliens that the main character Mae calls orcs. Mae signs up for the military with the hope that her Uncle June will receive protection and sanctuary in return. She ends up deploying to space and another planet and working as an orc translator. I don’t really love sci fi and outer space all that much, but this story was really good. The twist, FYI, was spectacular. So, a great start to the anthology.

Gilded by Elizabeth Acevedo

Gilded by Elizabeth Acevedo is about a girl who is born with gold dust on her skin. Eula may be motherless, but she has a special ability – an affinity for metal. The world of Gilded is harsh. The main character Eula essentially is a slave on a plantation run by Castillos. At first, they work the mines, now it is the sugar fields. Everything changes with the appearance of a boy, of course. This is my first time reading anything by Acevedo and my god, her words are superb. The prose is lush and evocative. I am going to seek out more by Elizabeth Acevedo.

Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death And Subsequently Her Best Life by Rebecca Roanhorse

Rebecca Roanhorse’s contribution Wherein Abigail Fields Recalls Her First Death And Subsequently Her Best Life is about a girl who doesn’t die. Set in the Old West, when we first meet Abigail, the Black settlement where she lives has been attacked by a gang of white men. Everyone is dead except for Abigail and a young woman named Mo. Abigail vows revenge. This story was immersive and engaging. Also, Abigail totally kicks ass.

The Rules Of The Land by Alaya Dawn Johnson

The Rules Of The Land by Alaya Dawn Johnson is an imaginative story about a girl named Nena who is the daughter of a selkie and a man. She lives on the land with her mother and father. Nena can see that her mother has a yearning for the sea as well as for a choice. However, her father doesn’t really treat her mother right. We see the fallout of this. In the end though, there are choices to be made. I thought the world within this story was interesting and I was compelled by the choice between land and sea.

A Biography Of Starlight by Somaiya Daud

I think maybe I was not in the best frame of mind to read and retain A Biography Of Starlight by Somaiya Daud. This short story is about a girl who is an orphan but has this special connection to music. She is found on the streets and taken in by some priestesses. The girl ends up connect with this god basically. Anyways, the story has some very rich details and descriptions. Had I been better able to concentrate, I would have likely been more into this story. I did really like her book, Mirage, however.

Melie by Justina Ireland

This is my favorite story from A Phoenix First Must Burn so far. Justina Ireland‘s Melie is about a girl named Melie who wants to be a sorcerer. Melie has to deal with patriarchal bullshit and works harder than anyone else only to be thrown all kinds of barriers to advancing her knowledge of magic. In the end though, she triumphs, comes in clutch and really proves just how amazing she is. I would love it if this story was expanded into a full book. 

The Goddess Provides by L.L. McKinney

The Goddess Provides by L.L. McKinney is a story about a girl who I imagine does the badass walk out in front of a fire, you know what I mean? Anyways, the main character is Akanni and her whole family has died. She has been on the run, building up an army going from country to country. Akanni hopes to reclaim her throne. And let me tell you, with the help of the Goddess, justice is served for Akanni. This story has an interesting mythology and heroine. It makes me want to check out more from L.L. McKinney.

Hearts Turned To Ash by Dhonielle Clayton

Dhonielle Clayton’s Hearts Turned To Ash is a fabulous contribution to A Phoenix Must First Burn. This story is about Etta whose boyfriend Jackson has just broken up with her. She finds she has this incredible pain in her chest because her heart is literally being crushed into ash. And so, with the help of her mother, she finds the Conjure Woman who can help Etta with her issue. For such a short story, there’s so much detail and pitch perfect characterization and world building. I wouldn’t expect any less from Dhonielle Clayton as I find her writing style to be phenomenal. This is one my favorite stories in the book for sure.

Letting The Right One In by Patrice Caldwell

Letting The Right One In by Patrice Caldwell is a story about a girl who is obsessed with vampires. Ayanna has moved from Chicago to Louisiana due to an incident. She spends all her time at the library reading vampire books. One day she goes to grab Interview With The Vampire and comes across another girl in the same section of the library. Ayanna suspects the girl, Corrie, might be a vampire. This story needs to be a book – the sapphic Black teenage vampire love story that the world deserves right now.

Tender-Headed by Danny Lore

Tender-Headed by Danny Lore is about Akilah who makes money by braiding. She has undercut the competition – an old woman who is simply referred to as Auntie. Akilah is a faster braider and she charges much less. However, her customers keep leaving her to go back to Auntie. And so, Akilah decides to find out why and have Auntie braid her hair. Ultimately, the braiding is a healing experience. I thought this was a good story about doing the work and truly healing from the things that hurt you.

Kiss The Sun by Ibi Zoboi

Ibi Zoboi’s contribution to A Phoenix First Must Burn was so unique. It’s a story about teenage girls who shed their skin, turn into light, and consume the souls of those who have done wrong. It examines colorism. The story takes a look at male privilege too. I also thought Zoboi did a superb job giving the reader a true sense of place. And the end of the story was absolutely not expected.

The Actress by Danielle Paige

The Actress by Danielle Paige is about a young lady named Gamine who is an actress on a popular supernatural teen tv drama. When we start, Gamine has never been kissed and she can’t quite nail the scene with her co-lead. We then find out that she’s actually a witch. This is an interesting story about Gamine coming to terms with her identity as a witch. But also, there’s an examination of what happens when people are mean to her because she’s black and cast into a part that the fandom thinks should have gone to a white girl. I liked that this story was a breeze to read as well as interesting.

The Curse Of Love by Ashley Woodfolk

The Curse Of Love by Ashley Woodfolk is very short, compared to the other stories in A Phoenix First Must Burn but packs a punch. It is about Aubrey who is getting ready for the day and putting on red lipstick with her aunt. The two women are very beautiful. As it happens, their family is cursed to lose all their beauty as soon as they fall in love back. And in this story we see the unfolding of feelings between Aubrey and Vince, her friend Talia’s brother. I could read a whole book by Ashley Woodfolk – this story was superb and not a word was wasted.

All The Time In The World by Charlotte Nicole Davis

I think this story, All the Time In The World by Charlotte Nicole Davis is different from the others in the anthology in that it diverges from the other stories by using 2nd person narration. The story is about a girl named Jordan who has discovered she has the ability to stop time. This story is set in the future – with hints of the Flint water situation. Essentially, the water is poison but Jordan drank it for years. Now she has her ability – and she wonders if she’s not the only one. There’s also a sweet romance too. 

The Witch’s Skin by Karen Strong

The Witch’s Skin by Karen Strong is a blend of post apocalyptic and paranormal and I am here for it. Basically, Nahlah is a pregnant seventeen year old girl who lives with her mother. The Boo Hag has killed her lover, Malik, who is also the father of her baby. And so, Nahlah plans to get revenge on the Boo Hag by killing her in return. And the way to do that is by attacking her while she isn’t wearing her skin. There’s a few unexpected twists. And it also gets in some good jabs at the patriarchy. 

Sequence by J. Marcelle Corrie

The final story in A Phoenix First Must Burn is Sequence by J. Marcelle Corrie and what a note to end on. This story is about AI technology called Sequence that is kind of like a magic 8 ball, you ask it a question and it presents you with a solution. So, when we start the story, main character Eden is at a party. Her friends are trying to set her up with this guy, Travis, but Eden only has eyes for Margot. That’s part A, part B has a twist and it’s good. On the whole, a great last story to wrap up this anthology.

A Phoenix First Must Burn edited by Patrice Caldwell is a spectacular anthology that's essentially a celebration of Black Girl Magic. There are all kinds of speculative fiction genres explored. Not a single story in this anthology was a dud.

About April (Books&Wine)

April is in her 30s and created Good Books And Good Wine. She works for a non-profit. April always has a book on hand. In her free time she can be found binge watching The Office with her husband and toddler, spending way too much time on Pinterest or exploring her neighborhood.

Leave a Comment


CommentLuv badge

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: