A Phoenix First Must Burn / Patrice Caldwell, Editor / Review


In order to rise from the ashes, a phoenix first must burn. 
~Octavia Butler

Orcs from space, a sexy vampire in a library, contaminated water that causes super powers: in sixteen short stories, editor Patrice Caldwell brings together a powerful collection of tales for a new generation. At the center of each story is color, femininity, and pride.

Fantasy, history, mythology, and sci-fi meet in the pages of this collection, and the young women of these stories rise from the ashes of their worlds to create new narratives and new futures: a collection of hope for a better world.



Everything Under the Sun This collection encompasses it all. It starts with a space-faring sci-fi adventure. Later, there are mermaids and dragons. All manner of witches express their power in these pages, and even vampires lurk in the shadows. Superheroes are born from toxic sludge, slaves lead a rebellion, and bandits and spirits roam the wild west. Anything and everything that a sci-fi/fantasy fan could want is represented in this body of work.

Encompassing Representation It is no secret that black protagonists are few and far between in the world of science fiction and fantasy. This collection places black women at the center--black women who are proud of their color, their heritage, their stories and voices. And this representation is nonchalant, natural, even as it is revolutionary. It shouldn't be revolutionary, after all. It is a shame to the literary world that the gap is only now being filled. Even more, this collection features queer protagonists just as naturally. These characters simply exist, and that casual representation is beautiful.


This is not a critique of A Phoenix First Must Burn in particular but rather of short story anthologies as a whole. Not all the stories collected will resonate with a reader. Indeed, not all of these stories left me wanting more, wrapped up in a world and mythology, as a good short story should. I found some difficult to read. I found some boring or dull. I found most of these stories excellent. Different authors, different approaches, different styles: it is hard to rate a collection as a whole when all of these factors come into play. Mixed Bag

This is both a critique and a boon to the text. Not every story in this collection treads ground unseen. In fact, most of them cross territory well-covered by other stories, other novels, other pieces of genre literature already well established. These stories are revolutionary for their protagonists--for their color, their desire, their history, their femininity. That these stories can be both revolutionary and unremarkable speaks loudly to the problem. There are gaps where there shouldn't be, and this collection is working to change that, to fill up the empty spaces for generations to come. This gap-filling is a good thing, but most of these stories don't come close to groundbreaking except in that regard. Unremarkable



Fans of the mix of genres and voices found in Editor Kate Bernheimer's anthology My Mother She Killed Me, My Father He Ate Me should check out this mixed-bag of black-girl-magic. Those enamored by the strange fantasy found in Robin McKinley and Peter Dickenson's Water should check out the unique fantasies brought to life in this anthology.


Publisher: Viking Books for Young Readers
Date: March 10, 2020
Series: N/A
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  1. I knew I wanted to read this from the first sentence of the blurb.


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