The Phoenix, New Edition with revisions (cover art by Ben Baldwin)
released February 2009 by Lethe Press
And, egomaniac that I am, I simply must post excerpts and links from the newest reviews.
For Mr. Burnie’s reviews of more titles, please go to his review website at: http://gerrycan.wordpress.com/
Mr. Burnie is also a gifted novelist, writing stories set in Canada. His author website is: http://www.gerryburniebooks.com/
The FIVE-star review of The Phoenix
by Gerry Burnie /
The novel opens in full flight with a running introduction to Jack Rourke, street urchin and pickpocket-thief, and his twenty-minutes-younger twin brother, Michael. The setting is the seamier side of London in 1882, effectively described as “…dingy shanties, tenements, gin shops, pubs and little shops with flyblown windows.” Nevertheless, Jack is clearly in charge as they go about putting together an ill-gotten purse to one day escape “him:” Their black-bearded, abusive and sadistic father, Tom Rourke. The mother—a secondary character—is also introduced from the wings as a battered wife who lacks the willpower to escape him; even by 19th-century standards.
Right from the get-go, therefore, the reader is transported back in time in the company of strong, juxtapositioned characters. Indeed, Jack’s character is such that he practically steps from the page as a tough, cocky and street-wise kid with a heart for his less-capable twin brother. Moreover, while we all recognize that he is an unapologetic thief, we still like him; and even more importantly we care for both of them and their collective welfare. That is the sign of a good story, masterfully conjured-up by the author with nothing more than ink on paper—and imagination, of course.
Quite a large cast of characters are introduced after them, both principal and secondary, but all of these have a definite place and purpose and are never gratuitous or cluttering as far as the story goes. Moreover, whether major of minor, they are all developed to be distinct in some way, and therefore add their various shades of colour to an overall palette.
The pacing, which includes the unfolding of events, ranks alongside characterization as one of the strong points of this novel. On the one hand it takes time to develop complex characters and settings like these, and the risk here is to slow the pace such that it becomes tedious. On the other, the introduction of various events, in an event-driven plot, poses the risk of leaping from one to another to maintain a connecting thread. Here, the author has achieved a happy compromise that remains consistent throughout.
Not to be overlooked is the amount of research required to reproduce Victorian England to a credible degree is quite considerable—especially for a gal from “…conservative, Republican, tiny-town Midwest USA” who, according to her biography has never seen a moor! Well, the test of the ‘credibility factor’ is that I as a reader certainly believed it.
Highly recommended for those who enjoy a serious literary effort with a sexy adult theme.
FIVE-star review on Jessewave’s Reviews; Reviewer Aunt Lynn
I need to say upfront that I loved this book. Were there a few issues? Yes, but I loved it enough to give it a 5-star rating even with the couple of niggles I had. Because of the way I read it (time-wise), I started early one evening but forced myself to stop at a critical point to go to bed. I dreamt about this book. I had to finish it the moment I woke up. Since then, I’ve thought about this book. I am day-dreaming about and writing the review for this book instead of doing my work. I wanted to re-read this book as soon as I finished, but I won’t be able to for a little bit. I smiled, I was pissed off, I cried, I was heartbroken for both heroes and more. … Read the rest at http://www.reviewsbyjessewave.com/?p=10197
November 2009 Bookwenches, Reviewer B.D.Whitney
Kit St. Denys might be exceedingly wealthy and the darling of the London stage, but the fame, the glamour and the influential name are just borrowed plumage that masks much more humble origins. He has an ugly past that haunts his nightmares, and secrets that could ruin him if they became public knowledge.
… Buried secrets have a tendency to be exhumed … Read the rest at:
You will have to scroll down to read it.
FOUR Cups at Coffee Time Romance and More, reviewer Danielle You can read the entire review at http://coffeetimeromance.com/BookReviews/ThephoenixByRuthSims.html
..The Phoenix is the type of story that has you in its grasp from the beginning. Ms. Sims shows us how Jack goes from an abused pickpocket to a wealthy and renowned actor in this magnificent tale of love and loss. … Not only is this a story of surviving in some of the most horrific occasions but it is also a story of self-discovery for Nicholas, who begins to understand who he wants to be only when it might already be too late. One of the greatest components of this story is how Nicholas is shown as weaker than Kit’s character, but when something tragic happens to the actor, it is the doctor himself who steps forward and fights for the man he loves. With heartbreaking scenarios, tragedy and triumph, love and hate, and laughter and tears, this beautiful and sensual novel will open your eyes to how life with all its trials and errors must have
been for these two lovers during the late nineteenth century.
October 2008 at Front Street Reviews. I have edited it slightly for length, but the entire thing can be seen at http://www.frontstreetreviews.com/
Reviewer Araminta Matthews
This book came into my hands by no accident. After reading the review I wrote for Rick Reed’s book, Orientation, the author, Ruth Sims, wrote to my editor at Front Street Reviews requesting a review of her first novel. After a few questions, I accepted the task whole-heartedly. A glbt book with male antagonists set in Victorian England and America – how could I go wrong? Indeed. I was lucky.
Ruth Sims, in her first book … has managed what few writers are ever capable of doing: she has breathed life into her characters as if slipping the magic paper into the ears of a sandy golem. The characters are alive, now, and they live forever inside this book.
The Phoenix chronicles the story of twin brothers, Michael and Jack Rourke, as they struggle in quasi-industrial, Victorian England where a new definition of poverty is dawning on the globe of civilization. In a world where the dual-income household is on the brink of normality, Jack and Michael must survive in abject destitution with a viciously abusive father and a mother whose only solace is found at the bottom of a bottle. But survival is not for both of them – in a rage of despair, their father pounds Michael into the grave and Jack, overwhelmed with the sadness and shock of his father’s brutality, stabs his father to death. But, this is just the beginning of the story.
With the help of his friend and her wealthy cousin, Jack reinvents himself into the persona of Kit St. Denys, stage actor extraordinaire. It is through his theatrical life that Jack (a.k.a. Kit) first meets the object of his affection, Nick Stuart, a man living under the shadow of his own father’s abusive temperament – only this abuse is less physical than spiritual.
Nick’s early tendencies toward homosexuality are met with religious fervor from his father and, as a result – like so many gay men and women today, even – Nick is tormented by the identity he knows to be his personal and holy truth and the religion that ostracizes him from the world. There is an attraction – a passion that is hotter than any romance novel could muster, and it is both beautiful and terrible (as any true passion can be). But, are they destined to be together when so much lies in the way of their union?
Awarded Forward Magazine’s “Book of the Year” Honorable Mention, The Phoenix is a prized first novel for new … writer, Ruth Sims. … This book is truly the product of a writer who is intrinsically skilled at her craft. My only wish is that, whatever muse she uses to write such brilliant prose, she will lend to me.
Rich and thick in the best Victorian tradition, and cool and smooth as the best contemporary romances, The Phoenix is that rare bird: a convincing historical novel with a compelling modern sensibility. I can’t recommend it highly enough.
Ruth Sims has a deft touch, conveying equally vividly her varied settings, from the stews of London and the Bowery to the grace of an English manor house and the garish opulence of New York’s nouveaux riches, from theaters to surgeries to squalid flats. She avoids the common pitfall of historical novelists, that of overemphasizing details, objects, or behaviors that would seem ordinary to her characters. The result is deliciously naturalistic; we are transported into each new setting via the details that set them apart to the characters observing them. I was particularly impressed with her theater imagery. Early in the tale, we see theaters through the wide eyes of the young protagonist, Kit, then later through the skeptical lens of Nick, an upright doctor’s son from the hinterland. When Kit and his actor friends take on the renovation of a New York theater later in the story, we get fresh details from a more experienced perspective. Sims brings us full circle, giving us yet another view of the theater through the jaded, predatory eyes of her villain. Each layer is delivered at precisely the right moment, drawing us readers deeply into that aspect of the story. (I also loved the characters’ childlike fascination with a new-fangled “shower-bath.”)
Likewise, Sims employs a Victorian device — multiple voices — that contemporary writers are taught to avoid, with energy and to good effect. This is not an omniscient-third-person narrative but rather one with a multiplicity of minor voices orbiting like satellites the voices of the two protagonists, Kit and Nick. Without over-writing, Sims gives us cadences of rich and poor, clever and dull, with subtle verbal signals. I usually find such head-hopping irritating, but then I seldom find it this well done. Sims occasionally presses a supporting character (Kit’s fellow actress Rama, or Nick’s wife Bronwyn) into service to explain their own behavior, or to illuminate the protagonists’ complicated motivations. Often it’s unnecessary to Sims’ story, but it was interesting and welcome often enough that I came to cautiously appreciate this element of the novel. Sims’ writing chops are on finer display with the voices of her two protagonists. Kit’s and Nick’s voices are internally consistent, making for very strong characters. But their voices are far from stagnant; they develop, lighten and darken, age and deepen, over the course of the novel.
In a certain twisted way, Kit St. Denys is a classic Victorian hero, starting life at the very bottom of London’s social hierarchy and rising by dint of fortune, effort, and guile to its very heights. He’s haunted by his early life, however, which tarnishes his later triumphs and provides the fulcrum for the novel’s narrative conflict. Kit’s a dashing, charming rake, unabashedly sexual in an era that demanded discretion and punished transgression. He’s also fiercely loyal to those who elevate him from his humble origins (including the theater itself) and generous to a fault. His obsession with Nick is the one character trait Sims leaves somewhat murky (and here is where the voices of secondary characters come in handy — they don’t really understand Kit’s feelings for Nick, either), which is one of the few weaknesses of the novel. That Nick somehow banishes the demons of Kit’s past is enough for Kit, but we’re left wishing for a bit more illumination. The dominant image in the novel is the phoenix, and Kit is its incarnation. The book hinges on Kit’s various transformations by various forces. His fulfillment as a character comes when he makes his final transformation, all on his own and with no audience to applaud him. For all his flaws, like his literary forbears Kit’s an easy character to love and root for, and Sims does him great justice.
If Kit reminds one of Jim Hawkins, or even Becky Sharp, then when Nick is introduced he echoes Dickens’ Pip or David Copperfield — a good man of humble origins, prodigious talent, and cautious ambition. Son of a country doctor who dreams of more sophisticated, modern training, Nick is ripe to be dazzled by the life Kit shows him. He’s a worthy foil for Kit’s ebullient nature but, hamstrung as he is by the dour morality and sexual repression of his upbringing, he is never quite able to match Kit in other ways. Kit’s story drives most of the plot, but Nick’s drives the romance. It’s his horrified reaction to one of Kit’s sexual indiscretions that separates them from much of the book and sets up the climactic final third of the novel. Nick’s bargains with his God, and his concessions to conventional mores, wore on me such that I, like Kit’s theater friends, wondered why Kit pursued Nick with such vigor and pined for him with such pathos. Their reconciliation after a long separation was too precipitous to engage me emotionally; however, Nick’s devotion to Kit at Kit’s lowest point is heartwarming, and redeemed him as far as I was concerned. Sims takes a risk having him employ the “new” science of psychology as he endeavors to heal Kit, but she pulls it off admirably, without it seeming like a deus ex machina or too convenient, by having Nick feel his way using his own intellect and a textbook or two. It’s a tribute to Sims’ talent that I never gave up on him even when he succumbed to the hypocrisy of the righteous; his very ambiguity kept me reading, and I admired how true Sims remained to the basic natures of her two main characters. I won’t give away the end of the story, but I will say that Sims’ leaves her protagonists (and her readers) very satisfied, if bittersweetly so. Nick, like Kit, is ultimately fulfilled by his own ability to name and claim his nature, and for me as a reader, he was finally worthy of love, and of Kit.
I read The Phoenix for a second time to write this review. A second read is unusual for me, but with this rich, rewarding tale, I can easily envision a third return to its pages. That is, until Ms. Sims gives us a new novel to savor.
prostitute mother and an abusive sailor father in the squalor of the late
nineteenth century London slums. When Jack’s brother dies at age thirteen,
Jack violently escapes his old man’s clutches and runs away.
helpless mother. Raised to follow in his father’s footsteps and become the
country doctor/vet, Nick rebels, flees his repressive father, and enrolls at
university in London to receive an education.
help of a theater owner, Lizbet Porter, and an adoptive father, Xavier St.
Denys, Jack tries to shed the horror and grief of his frightful past. He
reinvents himself as Kit St. Denys and becomes an actor and owner of a
repertory company. Meanwhile, Nick starts his own medical practice and is
committed to helping the downtrodden and poor receive medical care.
These two men might never have met one another, except that Nick and some
friends attend a performance of “Hamlet,” and Nick is spellbound by the
starring actor, Kit St. Denys. He goes back to see the play repeatedly.
Eventually, by chance, the two men meet, and it’s love and lust and
compelling attraction all at first sight.
But the story is hardly begun before complications develop in the most
delicious ways. Kit has hidden so much of his past, even from himself, and
Nick has trouble reconciling religion, family expectations, and the
overwhelming compulsion he feels for Kit. There are plot twists and
unexpected turns, and just when you think you understand what will happen
next, Sims upends expectations with a deft and gleeful hand.
At one point, Kit gives Nick a book of sonnets in which he inscribes the
Without the sanction of Society,
Without the sanction of the Church,
Without the sanction of God,
I love you.
Though the men seem destined for one another, it seems that the world,
London society, the theater, whole continents, and even Kit and Nick
themselves conspire to keep the two apart. How can these two talented but
haunted men possibly create a life together?
THE PHOENIX is a magnificent tour de force, a novel of searing power and
grace and constant surprises as it winds its way through London and New
York, the slums, high society, fancy theaters, castles, madness, and the
agony of one wounded heart seeking comfort and love in the arms of another
man despite being without the sanction of society, church, God, or his own
Ruth Sims has created an intensely fascinating world, Dickensian in breadth
and compelling in its depth and the methods she uses to bring it to life.
It’s become commonplace for reviewers to toss off comment like
“unputdownable,” but in the case of THE PHOENEX, this is absolutely true. I
haven’t ready anything since Sarah Waters’ work for evoking such an amazing
and lush Victorian feel. Though the book is classified “historical,” it’s
wildly evocative and dramatic without being melodramatic. The characters and
themes will have you thinking about this book long after you’ve finished it.
From the beginning to the end, the reader has no sure idea where the story
will go, and while we fervently hope that Nick and Kit are, indeed, destined
for love and happiness, the road they travel to invent and reinvent
themselves is rocky, unpredictable, and utterly engrossing.
THE PHOENIX is fantastic writing and storytelling of the highest order. This
is one book not to be missed. I give it my highest recommendation.
~Lori L. Lake, Midwest Book Review
I was pleased to receive two new reviews in one week! One by Bethann Korsmit and another by Peggy Ullman Bell. Links to their sites are on the links page as well as the reviews.
Bethann Korsmit blog: http://wryterreviews.blogspot.com/
Bethann Korsmit, reviewer
As someone who is not a fan of historical fiction, I’ll be the first to say that I’m glad that I put aside my dislike for the genre, and read The Phoenix. This was one of the best love stories that I’ve read in a long time.
The Phoenix is a complex love story between Kit St. Denys, the rich, artistic actor with a troubled past, and Nick Stuart, the chaste, conservative, religious physician. Kit St. Denys, born Jack Rourke, and twin to Michael, flees his brutally abusive father after his father kills Michael. Dirt poor, injured and frightened out of his wits, the teenaged Jack escapes to the local theatre where he works and encounters his friend, Lizbet. Lizbet takes him to stay with her wealthy cousin, Xavier St. Denys. It is there, with Xavier, that Jack Rourke rises like the Phoenix and becomes Kit St. Denys. As he enters manhood, handsome, amiable and rich, he encounters the Puritanical Nick Stuart, who grew up in an extremely oppressive religious household. There is an instant attraction, and the two begin an intimate, but forbidden, love affair. Nick is the only man who can keep Kit’s nightmares about his troubled past at bay. The big problem that Kit battles in his love for Nick is his unwillingness to share Nick with God. Misunderstandings and hurt feelings abound, and the “couple” go their separate ways, only to find one another later in New York, with Nick married with a baby on the way.
The hellish nightmares continue to haunt Kit, culminating with a bloody battle with his past. Will Nick be able to save the love of his life from himself? Will Kit ever be able to bury his troubled past? Will Nick’s wife see through his façade and realize that Nick and Kit are in love? A roller coaster ride of emotions ensues, and multiple lives will never be the same. Not until the last chapter will you find out if the Phoenix rises yet again.
The Phoenix is a well-constructed love story with a solid plot. The main characters are so well-defined that you will get a clear, indelible picture of both Kit and Nick, and the minor characters advance the plot exceptionally well. The author did an excellent job of weaving a tightly knit plot and bringing everything to a final resolution.
From the first page to the last paragraph, I was hooked on this novel. I wasn’t exactly a fan of Kit’s until he faced his demons in New York, but after that he had me in his corner. I lost a few hours sleep reading this book because I didn’t want to put it down, but it was well worth it. Definitely one of the better books I’ve read this year.
Review 8/16/08 by Peggy Ullman Bell
The Phoenix by Ruth Sims
This is one story you don’t want to miss. It had me crying before I got past chapter two and laughing halfway through chapter eight. The book is a marvel of passionate difficulties without ever feeling like an emotional rollercoaster.
There were a few point of view problems with description of what the POV character did not see but they were not severe enough to interrupt the flow. Altogether, the writing is superb, evocative. I found some details a bit jarring, not because they were out of place, but because I was surprised to discover that such things existed so long ago.
The author’s research is flawless, her writing tight and uncluttered. This is not a book for skip readers. Every word and comma is essential to the story, which, to this reviewer is exactly as it should be.
The love between St. Denys and Dr. Stuart is subtle, sultry and real; their emotion deep, rugged and lasting. I paused many time to sit back and let the intricacies of the story flow quietly through my mind.
One could not help but laugh at the thought of The Mrs. Astor with diamonds on her knickers.
The Phoenix thoroughly involves the reader. The specifics of both theater and surgery pull the reader into diverse scenes with ease, and hold them there – in the past – with Kit when his worthless excuse for a father comes after him. Tom Roarke is an excellently drawn villain. This reader could not wait to see him meet his end.
By chapter twenty-two, the urge to steal a glimpse at the end is strong and difficult to resist but you must resist it or you’ll miss the fun. As with any good drama, just as near unbearable the move toward the finale begins complete with comedy, unexpected misunderstandings and false hints.
Overall, I can’t remember when I’ve ever enjoyed a book so much. Get it. Read it then pass it along. This one is definitely worth sharing [if you can bring yourself to part with it at all]
Peggy Ullman Bell: author Fixin’ Things & Sappho sings.