Wednesday, July 8, 2009
The Phoenix by Ruth Sims
Reviewed by Alan Chin
This compelling Victorian saga brings together two men. The first, Kit St. Denys (starts off as Jack Rourke), grew to the doorstep of manhood as a gutter rat in the slums of London. He suffered from poverty, a weakling brother, a prostitute mother, and a brutally abusive father. The one silver lining in his life was, by luck, that he established a connection with the theater, and began an acting career that would eventually lead to fame and riches, but only after Kit’s mother leaves them, his brother dies at the hand of his father, and Kit stabs his father in a vicious fight. To hide Kit from the law, a rich theater owner adopts him and changes his identity.
The other man, Nicholas Stuart, was destined to follow in the footsteps of his father, a poor village doctor. Nicholas however, runs off to study at the university, and becomes a highly qualified surgeon, respected by peers. He opens a clinic for London’s poor and lives a frugal, passionless life, until the day he accompanies friends to the theater and sees Kit St. Denys on stage. Nicholas is entranced by Kit, and when an act of luck brings him to Kit’s dressing room after the play, the two men are enchanted by each other in such strong terms that their budding love transcends time, distance, and a host of obstacles.
Narrated in the manner of a 19th century novel – primarily told, not shown – the characters are kept at a slight distance from the reader. But this didn’t keep me from caring about the characters. The protagonists are complex, flawed and completely sympathetic. Indeed, I wanted more. There were several secondary characters that I would have like to have seen expanded, and even with the two lovers, there were episodes in their lives that could have benefited by drilling to a deeper understanding.
In keeping with a historical novel told in the 19th century manner, there are no detailed descriptions of sex. I found that refreshing, and there certainly was no need for it. Kit and Nicholas’s love and need for each other was the focus, not what went on behind the bedroom door. Still it was a passionately told love affair.
Although I am, admittedly, not a huge fan of historical fiction, I found The Phoenix a satisfying read. Beyond the normal romance plot twists, is the convincing story of two men in turmoil, and their only chance for survival is to cling to each other, which of course is not always the case. The many varied plot twists kept me turning pages while pulling for both protagonists. There were times when I felt the storyline was too predictable, and there were certain elements about the ending that were disturbing, but that did not detract from my enjoyment of this story. I have no reservation in recommending this book to anyone.