Chris McMahon’s novella Flight of the Phoenix is a solid fantasy novella set in McMahon’s larger “Jakirian” universe. It stars Belin, a General in the Bulvuran Empire who’s sixty years old but still lean, fit, and a great fighter. Belin should be in retirement, but his fate lies elsewhere; instead, he must fight one last battle in order to save the scion of a dying Empress.
Belin is a sturdy rationalist who’s always put his faith in what he can see — his hands. His weapon. His narsiit (a winged mount which he rides as others might ride a horse). His brain. But now, he has visions to contend with, visions of his Emperor’s impending demise, that can only be due to his suppressed talent for sorcery; he’s not used to anything like this, and is not sure what, if anything, he can do to help his Emperor.
As he’s about to go to his Emperor’s side, he receives another vision — now, the Emperor is dying, begging Belin to go to his wife’s side (the Empress, Evylin) as the Emperor fears treachery in the capital city of Raynor. Belin’s visions are unfortunately all too accurate; when Belin makes it to Raynor, he finds it held by someone previously thought the most inoffensive of men, Steward Delphos. But, of course, the real Delphos has been killed; his place has been taken by a nasty Eathal shapeshifter. (We know the Eathals are terrible people due to what they do to Belin’s narsiit mount, which is killed ruthlessly — and gratuitously — just to prove the point that the Eathals are mean and nasty with no redeeming social value whatsoever. ) And of course we find out that the Eathals are to blame for the Emperor’s death, for the seizure of Empress Evylin, and for the unrest in the streets.
Worst of all, Evylin is pregnant and is due any day. One of Belin’s visions makes it clear that Belin himself must remove the baby from the capital or it will never survive, so Belin is forced to fight his way through without much in the way of allies. Only one man, an old friend, is able to help Belin by the use of sorcery. This helps Belin get into the Palace far more quickly and easily than otherwise, but it comes with a price. Sorcery had been suppressed by nearly everyone in the Bulvuran Empire due to the previous Emperor’s hatred of it, so Belin’s friend using it openly showed real courage along with utter desperation.
At any rate, Belin wins through to the Empress to find her, her newborn child, and a midwife confined to a small series of rooms. But the Empress thinks she knows a way out . . . will they succeed before the Empress dies? And how will this particular flight end — in judgment, in triumph, or worst of all, in disgrace?
McMahon’s story is a compelling affair that combines quasi-medieval feudalism with fantasy elements. The action here rings true. The characterization is believable. And I’d definitely read more from McMahon in the future, especially due to the insert of McMahon’s next novel in the “Jakirian” cycle, The Calvanni, which features more intrigue in this world about twenty years after the end of Flight of the Phoenix.
— reviewed by Barb