Book Review: Phoenix Island

Phoenix IslandPhoenix Island by John Dixon
My rating: 3 of 5 stars

Carl Freeman has gotten in trouble one too many times. So when a judge orders him to a remote island boot camp for troubled orphaned youth (pretty specific criteria for entry there), at first it seems like a harsh punishment and environment to send a sixteen year old kid into. That is before Carl and his friends discovers that not all is as it appears to be on Phoenix Island and things go from harsh to hellish.

Thus begins (and I do mean begins) the story of Phoenix Island by John Dixon, a respectable if flawed first novel that also served as the basis for the short-lived CBS series “Intelligence.” Things ramp up pretty quickly and the reader doesn’t have to wait long for the ugly side of Phoenix Island to come to light. And that’s part of the problem. More on this in a moment.

Carl is likeable and maddening at the same time. He is a young boxer who has a short temper, but what really sets him off are bullies picking on the weak. Carl has a noble streak in him, and most of the times that he’s gotten into trouble have involved him stepping in to defend someone who couldn’t defend themselves. It’s a likeable if simple trait in an age where anti-heroes seem to be the order of the day. But he also tends to revert back to boxing metaphors for nearly everything, which becomes annoying. I understand that this is Dixon’s background, but he need to realize that not everyone is as into boxing as he is and the boxing metaphors become distracting.

The problem with his character come in with his naiveté. Carl, quite frankly, is not that smart. And this is where the above mentioned problem begins to rear its head. It quickly becomes obvious that something is very, very wrong on Phoenix Island. And yet Carl and his friends play along for a lot longer than someone with the aforementioned noble streak should. And as they piece it together, I felt myself wanting to scream at the page what is so blatantly obvious that they just don’t seem to grasp. This might be a way of trying to show that they’re inexperienced kids, but I found it frustrating and it starts to bring back the previously suspended disbelief very quickly.

Aside from the rather frustrating character flaws that seem to be extremely plot-convenient, the plot runs very quickly. As I mentioned earlier, things ramp up fast, so there’s not much of a preamble before the meat of the book starts. It becomes a roller coaster of action and espionage. As a side note, the reader would be well-advised not to get too attached to any of the characters as Dixon seems be taking a cue from George R. R. Martin, and Dixon does not shy away from the darker, more violent aspects of Phoenix Island.

With characters that are likeable but frustrating, a fast but oddly convenient plot, and a dark if somewhat unbelievable tone, Phoenix Island is an easy read and at the very least a respectable first book despite its numerous flaws. I understand that this will be the first part of a series, which based on the ending of this one can only illicit the response of “Well, duh!” I will be reading the second book and watching to see if Dixon learns from the mistakes he made with Phoenix Island. There is definitely a budding talent here, but he could use a little more refining.

Phoenix Island by John Dixon earns 3 brain chips out of 5.

Note: An electronic copy of this book was provided to this reviewer by the publisher for free through NetGalley. This has in no way affected the content of this review.

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