The Phoenix Project

The Phoenix Project

by D.M. Cain

5 out of 5

In Salverford prison, time was obsolete. One day drifted into the next and the next… And without any sense of time, how could he move on? Time heals all wounds… So where did that leave him?

One man battles through guilt and redemption in D.M. Cain’s riveting new novel, The Phoenix Project.

In a dystopian future, Britain has descended into violence and terror as criminals run rampant. In response, the Phoenix Project is created—a system in which inmates from prisons across the country fight to the death, cheered on by a bloodthirsty public.

Raven Kennedy, a prisoner who is unable to forgive himself for his past crime, struggles to come to grips with a present in which he is forced to kill others.

As he faces one of his fiercest battles yet, Raven appears to find an ally in Alexia—a woman who provides both the means for Raven’s disturbing methods of self-harm and the strength to resist it.

He begins to realize he will either die in the ring or live and achieve stardom; but before he can fight for his life, he needs to find a reason to live. His real enemy is not the man pitted against him; it is the monster inside himself.

The forgiving world we know has crumbled in the aftermath of terrorist threats.  In a bid to appear strong enough to make the tough decisions, and to make the public think that something is actively being done, the government create the Phoenix Project.  A brutal new way for prisoners to live, being forced to fight and die in pits for entertainment.
Once a anti-Phoenix campaigner, Raven winds up in Salverford prison, and becomes entangled in a much bigger game.

This was brilliant!  Although it is a dystopian, it focusses more on the psychological aspect of existing within the prison system.  Knowing that at any time, you could step into the ring to die.  Or worse, to have to kill a fellow inmate with your bare hands.
There are some, like the prison champion Khan, who thrive under the spotlight and attention.  He is Britain's number 1 gladiator.
Most others just hope to stay alive.  They might enjoy a few successes and a brief fame outside the walls of the prison; but ultimately they will die.

This follows Raven, who is deep in depression and self-loathing.  His motivation to win his fights is shaped as a sort of self-punishment, that he is not allowed to die until he has paid off the debt that he is carrying with him.  But I do wonder if he is partly telling himself that, to make it ok that he has a survival instinct that kicks in every time he enters the arena.

The perception of the Phoenix Project, and the public championing one fighter or another... those that catch their admiration are adored, worshipped, become celebrities etc.  There is one point where, during an interview Millicent (the ultimate bitch and wild animal with no control in the arena) says that she is an idol to young girls - encouragement that they should grow up to be all that they can be.
As the lines between the punishment of the penal system and the demands of entertainment blur, it is often overlooked, or consciously dismissed that all these people are criminals.  That is why they are here in the first place!
Even Raven, the hero in our story.  He is in prison for a very good reason.  Which begs the question, does he actually deserve freedom and forgiveness?

I found the end of this book a little unusual.  I'm not sure whether I dislike it, or found it refreshing, the verdict is still out.  Not to give anything too spoilerish away, but I was surprised by Raven's role (or lack thereof) in bringing down Salverford.  There's a part near the end where an important discovery is wedged in, and then there's a bit of a blur over time, as though the author was in a rush to tie things up.

Overall, a really good psychological and moral drama.
Goodreads link


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