Review: The Phoenix by Ruth SimsThe Phoenix
by Ruth Sims
Published by Lethe Press
Reviewed by Liam Tullberg
The Phoenix is a richly-written Victorian saga that explores the lengths one will go to for true love.
At the heart of the novel is Jack Rourke, a strong-willed, morally-malleable young man destined to escape his impoverished and abusive homelife. The death of his sickly twin, Michael, at an early age ignites a fury in Jack that leads him to murder his cruel, tyrannical father. On the run, he disappears into the winding streets of London and soon finds the home and family he never had in the local theatre where, with the help of kindly Lizbet, he is reborn as Kit St. Denys.
When an accident on stage brings Dr Nicholas Stuart into Kit’s life, the attraction for both men is immediate and, despite themselves, they are irreversibly drawn together, their stark contrasts the ground on which their relationship is built; Kit gregarious and creative, Nicholas withdrawn and logical. Their affair appears doomed from the start, their inner conflicts as strong as those around them in a society in which homosexuality could lead to imprisonment and social exile. Sims writes these issues with compassion and clarity, not allowing historical fact to slow or impend upon the engagement and enjoyment of fiction.
While Jack is clearly the protagonist of The Phoenix, Sims has created a truly empathetic, plausible character in the initially arid, insular Nicholas. Introduced through his fervently religious family, Nicholas’s cold character thaws out on every page and he is a character with whom one wills Kit to share his life. His wife, Brownlyn, is also written with tenderness and not allowed to become the caricature harpy that would no doubt have made the reader’s emotions towards her two-dimensional at best.
Throughout the novel, it’s clear to see that, for both Kit and Nicholas, the bond of family is near-impossible to break. Kit cannot shake the feeling that, as his father had always told him, he is worthy of nothing, and Nicholas is forever bound by the guilt born of his family’s religion. It is within these flaws that their love and need for one another grows and the novel reaches a dramatic, unforgettable ending.
The Phoenix is an engaging and exciting read that is written with enough historical detail to create a picture in the readers’ mind’s eye, but not so much as to distract from the excellent characters and winding plot. Likewise, the dialogue feels true to the period, but is not cumbersome or difficult to manage.
While the story of The Phoenix may be set in the late 19th Century, it’s one of love, lust and loss that is as pertinent as present day tales. Each of us has our demons and it is how we exorcise them that tells the truth about our character.
Liam Tullberg is a Bristol-based author currently working on his novel, From the Darkness, and can be contacted through www.liamtullberg.com