BLM Book Fairies: a book review of A Phoenix First Must Burn

Our fifteenth choice for BLM Book Fairies is a collection of short retellings of magic, fantasy and folk tales! We hope you enjoy our book fairy review.

A Book Fairy Review of A Phoenix First Must Burn, edited by Patrice Caldwell

In the introduction of this short story collection, featuring tales of Black girl magic from sixteen different young adult authors, Patrice Caldwell recalls how when growing up she was looking for someone who looked like herself in the children’s section of the library, but the stories were more often than not rooted in pain set amid slavery and segregation. Important topics, but she missed the representation in the speculative worlds she loved exploring in fiction, such as Star Trek and The Twilight Zone

With A Phoenix First Must Burn, Cadwell and the contributing authors have done a fantastic job creating a diverse collection of fantastical tales ranging from science fiction set in space to superheroes, and from sorcery to skin-shedding creatures. All of them with Black main characters from different walks of life, at different points in time. 

Some of the stories are more abstract and mythical or futuristic, others take place in a contemporary world not unlike our own but with a speculative twist. What they all have in common is that the protagonists are strong women experiencing hardships; an alien invasion, heart break (quite literally), war. But in the end, each of the tales leave a feeling of hope. 

As with all short story collections, not all tales leave an equal impression and for me the ones that were most intriguing and unique were those right at the start of the novel. When Life Hands You a Lemon Fruit Bomb by Amerie is a fascinating take on the traditional sci-fi genre with a surprising amount of detail in the limited number of pages – and an incredible twist towards the end. And Gilded by Elizabeth Acevedo is an empowering tale of rebellion and resistance that will leave the reader gasping for more. 

A Phoenix First Must Burn has done a wonderful job creating a diverse cast of characters in even more varied tales while keeping the theme of Black girl magic at the heart of each of the sixteen stories included. Whether you’re someone who enjoys a good spooky read involving witches, or you prefer to lose yourself in a more futuristic setting, there will be a fantastical world within the pages of this book for you to lose yourself in.

About the book:

Sixteen tales by bestselling and award-winning authors that explore the Black experience through fantasy, science fiction, and magic. With stories by: Elizabeth Acevedo, Amerie, Patrice Caldwell, Dhonielle Clayton, J. Marcelle Corrie, Somaiya Daud, Charlotte Nicole Davis, Justina Ireland, Alaya Dawn Johnson, Danny Lore, L. L. McKinney, Danielle Paige, Rebecca Roanhorse, Karen Strong, Ashley Woodfolk, and Ibi Zoboi.

Black women are phoenixes.

We are given lemons and make lemonade.

So are the characters featured in this collection of stories.

These sixteen stories highlight Black culture, folktales, strength, beauty, bravery, resistance, magic, and hope. They will take you from a ship carrying teens who are Earth’s final hope for salvation to the rugged wilderness of New Mexico’s frontier. They will introduce you to a revenge-seeking hairstylist, a sorcerer’s apprentice, and a girl whose heart is turning to ash. And they will transport you to a future where all outcomes can be predicted by the newest tech, even matters of the heart.

Though some of these stories contain sorrow, they ultimately are full of hope. Sometimes you have to shed who you were to become who you are

As my parents used to remind me, Black people have our pain, but our futures are limitless.

Let us, together, embrace our power.

Let us create our own worlds.

Let us thrive.

And so our story begins . . .

Get your copy of A Phoenix First Must Burn!

You can ask your local book shop to order a copy in for you! Let’s try to support book shops where we can. Or grab a copy from Hive Books here.

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The Book Fairy Box

This title, A Phoenix First Must Burn, is one of twenty incredible titles featured in our current Book Fairy Box. Each box contains two brand new books as well as a tonne of incredible goodies!

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