Chasing the Phoenix has been out for a couple of months and the reviewers have had ample opportunity to take their whacks at it. And the results?
Almost embarrassingly positive. In Analog, Gary Sakers writes: "Swanwick is a masterful guide to the bizarre and hilarious adventures of Darger and Surplus. He keeps all the elements moving, suspending disbelief like a talented juggler. Not simply funny, this book sparkles with genuine wit. SF has seen many con artists; Darger and Surplus are a supreme example."
Kirkus calls the novel a "supple, artfully humorous, and vastly engaging yarn," and concludes, that "along with a splendid supporting cast, Swanwick offers a pair of delightful rogues whose chief flaw (like Jack Vance’s celebrated Cugel the Clever, a likely inspiration) is that they’re a little too crafty for their own good. Swanwick’s approaching top form, and this one’s just too good to miss."
Meanwhile, over at Publishers Weekly says that, "Swanwick deftly incorporates the literature and history of imperial China into the established post-technology world. The style may distance readers who are more used to stories of emotional development, but as Darger’s schemes become more intricate, the intellectual puzzles keep interest right to the end."
In Shelf Awareness, Nancy Powell calls the novel a "sweeping fantasy epic," and states that "Swanwick deftly weaves myth and historical fact together to create an intriguing dystopic mystery whose resolution will elude readers until its final pages. His vision of China hinges on the fantastical, but it's a believable resemblance that gives the narrative a foreboding power.
Over in Booklist, David Pitt declares, "For readers who’ve never met Surplus and Darger, this book is like a breath of fresh air, witty and imaginative and just plain goofy fun. Fans of the duo (they’ve appeared in several short stories and one previous novel, Dancing with Bears, 2011) will be lining up for the book; libraries with large SF/fantasy collections may want to stock multiple copies."
Duncan Lawie's review in Strange Horizons begins "Darger and Surplus are back. If this means a lot to you, save some time and go fetch Chasing the Phoenix straightaway. If not, read on," and concludes by stating that "the ending is a delight. Swanwick builds a pleasurable reading experience at every level. From word choice and sentence shape to plot and character, each reflects and amplifies the other and the whole package is tied up with just enough loose ends to look forward to more in this series."
And finally, in the Chicago Tribune, Gary K. Wolfe writes, "Veteran fantasy readers will recognize Swanwick's duo as descendants of, and a tribute to, Fritz Leiber's beloved old sword and sorcery stories of an equally larcenous duo named Fafhrd and the Gray Mouser, but Swanwick's snappy dialogue and satirical barbs are entirely his own."
I will not pretend that I find these reviews anything less than gratifying. But writers write to be read. So I encourage you all to buy a copy or borrow one from the library or a friend. That would please me even more.
And for those who haven't read the first Darger & Surplus novel...
I want to make it clear that each of Darger and Surplus's adventures is a stand-alone work. There's no need to read the earlier book before reading Chasing the Phoenix. True fact.