The Phoenix Crown Falls Flat Despite High Expectations

2.5 stars rounded up to 3.

I have long been a fan of Kate Quinn, with several of her books earning 5-star ratings. Because of that, I eagerly anticipated The Phoenix Crown, co-written with Janie Chang. I was so disappointed that I almost didn’t finish it. Here’s why.

In 1906, opera singer Gemma Garland moves to San Francisco to join the New York Metropolitan Opera’s traveling company, hoping to room with her old friend Nellie Doyle. Instead, she meets and falls for railroad magnate Henry Thornton. Meanwhile, 19-year-old Feng Suling, disguised as a boy to avoid an arranged marriage, is trying to forget her missing lesbian lover, Reggie. When a 7.9-magnitude earthquake devastates San Francisco, Thornton disappears, leaving behind a mystery.

The premise held promise, but the plot dragged, and Quinn’s usually vivid writing felt muted, possibly because of the collaboration. I ended up skimming the last 20 percent of the book.

Initially, the characters intrigued me, but including LGBTQ characters seemed forced, as if to adhere to contemporary trends. It’s almost like the publisher provided a checklist that included the line item, “Make sure there is a gay storyline.” Also, inserting Alice Eastwood, a real historical figure, into a fictional storyline felt inappropriate.

Having read other novels about the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake, I found The Phoenix Crown lacking in comparison. It didn’t capture the horror of the disaster. I expected more from a writer of Quinn’s caliber.

** Thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for a comp of this book. The opinions are my own.

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