The phoenix is a mythical bird that dies in fire and is reborn from the ashes. It’s pretty well known as fantasy creatures go. There’s one in Harry Potter, for example, so of course everybody knows them.
I’m plotting a book where the hero has to stop an evil phoenix from stealing a magical artifact of some kind. Since I’m writing urban fantasy, the phoenix will be human-shaped most of the time, the way vampires, werewolves, and most other monsters appear human until pressed. That’s no problem–I’m having so much fun dreaming up powers for him to use against the hero. Bad guys are fun.
The trouble is, I’m not sure a phoenix can actually be killed. That’s their shtick–they resurrect. So I went poking around to find out more about the original myths.
1. They seem to originate in ancient Egypt and Phoenicia. The bird was said to be the same rich purple as the expensive dyes the Phoenicians produced. They were the bennu bird, some kind of stork or heron.
2. In Egypt, the phoenix worked like the dung beetle. After it was reborn, it gathered up its parents’ ashes and carried them to Heliopolis in a ball plastered with myrrh. (Source: Wikipedia)
3. It’s a symbol of peace and prosperity. They’re always considered a good omen, or a symbol of a benevolent god of some kind.
4. When they burned up, it was always on fragrant wood, like cinnamon twigs, so a burning phoenix was basically incense.
The death and rebirth of the phoenix is part of the myth. I don’t think they could be killed permanently, but then, they were considered good luck and I don’t think people killed them anyway.
So, as I’m planning my story, I’m wondering if I should bother having the hero trying to kill a phoenix. They only come back. Maybe have the phoenix be a recurring character in other books? (“That annoying phoenix guy, back again from the dead!”) Should the phoenix not be a bad guy at all, but rather be working for the Greater Good, but with goals that go against the hero’s? (Like stealing magical artifacts.)
I needed ideas, so I went and hunted around for other urban fantasy books that feature phoenixes. These are the ones I grabbed samples for.
The Nix series by Shannon Meyer. Girl with phoenix powers fights the oppressive bad guys, mafia, other magic users, and has her family slaughtered in the first chapter of book 1. Eh. Not really what I want to read right now.
Souls of Fire by Keri Arthur. Girl is a phoenix, but the worldbuilding is set up in such a way that she always has to have at least two lovers. Eh. Infidelity doesn’t strike me as an outstanding character trait. Pass.
Phoenix Blood (Old School series), by Jenny Schwartz. A girl with the power to find things runs into her old flame (ha ha!) who has phoenix fire in his blood and a week to live. I kind of liked the setup for this one. The reviews say that it’s not over-the-top with bedscenes, and the hero and heroine are “emotionally mature adults”. I’m down with adult characters who act like adults without panting after each other all the time.
I’m seeing lots of other books, like book 3 in a series, that features a one-shot phoenix character. I don’t want to have to read a whole series to understand it, though. I’m also seeing some YA and epic fantasy with phoenixes, but they use the actual bird. I kind of wanted the humany kind.
Any suggestions of books to try? Or suggestions of how to write a humany phoenix in a way that makes sense?