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  • Writer's pictureThe Bossy Bookworm

Review of The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn and Janie Chang

Quinn and Chang share an adventure- and danger-laden story of women artists, women of color, and women of various social classes in San Francisco just before the Great 1906 Earthquake--as well as their determination to find justice.


In 1906 San Francisco, two very different women seek new beginnings: Gemma is a gifted soprano whose career is in need of an overhaul, while Suling is an embroideress in Chinatown who is set against entering into the marriage that's been arranged for her.

Henry Thornton is a wealthy railroad magnate and owner of the mysterious Phoenix Crown, an artifact legendary because of its origins in Beijing's Summer Palace. Thornton draws both Suling and Gemma into his world by offering to be their patron. But Thornton isn't a selfless, kind benefactor--he's a cruel, cutthroat, flighty villain holding deadly secrets.

When San Francisco is devastated by an earthquake and the widespread destruction of its aftermath, Thornton disappears--and the Phoenix Crown with him.

Those he's left behind are traumatized, reeling from cruelties, close calls, and haunted by the deaths Thornton exacted on others.

Five years later, the crown reappears--spurring more mystery and questions than answers. When the authorities require too much time and evidence to take control, the varied women he's left in his wake, far from cowed, become determined to take down Thornton themselves.

At times the story felt as though it was shifting into overly dramatic soap-opera territory for me, and while I understood the buildup to the earthquake, I didn't enjoy the interjections of multiple omniscient countdowns to the event.

Yet I loved the rich early-1900s San Francisco setting, the focus on the arts, the strong women characters, and the varied representation of classes and circumstances, so I was willing to go wherever Quinn and Chang were taking me.

It's evident that the authors exhaustively researched the era, prominent figures, and circumstances within San Francisco for women, artists, people of color, and others.

Do you have any Bossy thoughts about this book?

Kate Quinn is the author of the fantastic titles The Diamond Eye, The Huntress, The Rose Code, and The Alice Network.

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