Phoenix has lived all her short life in Tower 7. She is one of the SpeciMen, an accelerated, genetically modified human being. When the man she loves sees something awful, he takes his own life, leaving Phoenix alone. She soon starts to doubt the sanctuary of her existence and questions what the Big Eyes are doing.

What they are doing in the towers will be the end of humanity if it is not stopped.

The exploitation of African people is repeated in this futuristic tale, this time for their genetic make-up. The bulk of the SpeciMen in the towers are of African descent and most of the Big Eyes, the scientists working on them, are Caucasian. People outside the towers don’t question them, they just see the positive spin, like the tower which discovered the cure for HIV. No one questions the means.

It’s a tale of slavery in a new form and questions how far should science go. Genetic modifications are for the sake of the country rather than the individual. A person grown in a lab is treated as property, without human rights, and Phoenix soon starts to see the injustice of her life once she is outside the tower’s walls. The cruelty the characters endure is shocking and the glimpse Phoenix sees of the Holocaust is a saddening reminder that this sort of experimentation isn’t entirely fiction.

There is a mix of magical realism and some grounding in African mythology in amongst the science fiction, which makes it a hard book to define, but one I would definitely recommend reading. The message might be a hard one to read, as it puts exploitation and institutional racism right in our faces, but it’s important to acknowledge and it’s also a piece of fantastic storytelling.

For the first year of my life, in Tower 7, I’d wondered if I was made from inferior DNA. Then I started mixing books written by Africans about Africans into the ones I was reading. These stories were different.

I wasn’t aware that this was written as a sequel, but it really doesn’t matter if you haven’t read Who Fears Death. The book is introduced by a man living in a future which I assume is the setting of the previous book. He finds and listens to Phoenix’s story and comes to realise this is how his world came to be how it is. The framing of the story makes more sense in the context of a wider world and it has definitely made me more inclined to read Who Fears Death.

The Book of Phoenix is published by Hodder and is available now in paperback and ebook editions. Thanks go to the publisher for providing a copy for review.

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Disclosure: I received a copy of this book free of charge for review purposes only. Receipt of a book does not guarantee a review or endorsement. My reviews are my honest opinion and are not biased for the purpose of personal gain.