This page was last updated on 12 January 2008.

The Phoenix Legacy

by M. K. Wren

About the series

Cover blurbs and artwork

Historical timeline

Overview of the Concord

Plot summary [spoilers]

Unanswered questions and potential inconsistencies [spoilers]

Thoughts on a Phoenix Legacy roleplaying game

  • I came back to this page after not having looked at it for a while, and I realized that a reader might come away with the wrong impression. I really like this series, so much so that I have been known to buy extra copies to give away. So while I might think the covers are goofy, the books are some of the best fiction I have ever read.
  • This is a work in progress -- there's more to come!

About the series

The Phoenix Legacy is a series consisting of three books published by Berkely Books in the 1980s. The three books are Sword of the Lamb (1981), Shadow of the Swan (1981), and House of the Wolf (1981).

Hundreds of years after the end of the Second Dark Age, young Alexand DeKoven-Woolf is heir to a seat on the Directorate of the Concord of the Thousand Loyal Houses. Through his dying brother Rich, Alexand becomes involved with the Society of the Phoenix, an outlawed group trying to promote evolutionary change in the current social structure before the tensions inherent in the Concord's feudal system bring on a third dark age. The rulers don't see it that way, of course; they never do.

This series is one of the few that posits a feudal style of government that doesn't come across as sounding totally stupid and archaic. This is because the system, while feudal, isn't simply based on the premise that everyone woke up one morning and decided it would be cool to have dukes and barons and such. [In fact, such medieval terms aren't used at all, and the governmental structure resembles nothing so much as a coalition of manufacturing and agricultural conglomerates with hereditary boards of directors -- and employees.] Yes, I know that the space feudalism stories always have some perfunctory excuse grafted into the history of the setting explaining why monarchy made the Great Comeback. Contrary to popular belief, though, history doesn't repeat itself (although it will occasionally present individuals and civilizations with choices and consequences that, in hindsight, are reminiscent of an earlier time), and "Uh, see, there were these dark ages..." is not a sufficient explanation.

Note that there are a few stories that do work despite this -- Herbert's Dune and Pournelle's Mote in God's Eye (two other books on my all-time favorites list) come immediately to mind. The former, however, is set so far in the future as to be almost a parable, and the latter has a lot of detail work in the background which differentiates it from being your run-of-the-mill aristocracy story.

Overall, I enjoyed this series enough that I buy extra copies to give to friends.

Cover blurbs and artwork

This series was published in 1981 and reprinted in 1985. Unfortunately, it had really stupid covers in both instances. The 1981 edition covers made it look like a Jackie Collins novel set in medieval Venetian beach resort, whereas Berkeley chose "goofy looking spaceships unrelated to the story" as the theme for the second edition covers. In addition, the back cover blurbs are about average in accuracy for a book publisher -- meaning that they were apparently written by people who had not read the books.

Here are the covers and the blurbs. The top picture is the 1985 edition.

Back cover blurb from Sword of the Lamb, 1985 edition:
In the 33rd Century, a dazzling empire is poised on the brink of annihilation...

Born into the House of DeKoven Woolf, Lord Alexand is heir to a mighty industrial empire. But deep at the heart of the Concord brews dangerous unrest -- an uprising among the enslaved Bonds that threatens civilization with the spectre of a third Dark Age.

The only hope for the future is the Society of the Phoenix -- a powerful revolutionary group that has sworn to overthrow the Concord. By committing the ultimate treason and joining forces with his own brother, martyred leader of the Phoenix, Alexand will forfeit more than just his birthright of power.

For only by sacrificing his own identity -- and his love for beautiful, high-born Lady Adrien -- can he save civilization from total destruction...
Comment: There are a number of inaccuracies here. First, there have already been frequent uprisings of the Bonds; the danger is that the uprisings -- and the increasingly harsh responses to them -- will spiral out of control. Second, the Phoenix is very decidely evolutionary in philosophy -- it has NOT "sworn to overthrow the Concord," as any move to do so would trigger the conflagration they are trying to prevent.

Back cover blurb from Sword of the Lamb, 1981 edition:
The House of DeKoven Woolf:
ALEXAND: The eldest, heir to a great industrial dynasty, and also it's prisoner, his destiny and his heart forever at war...
ADRIEN: His beloved, rebelling against the law that a woman born to rule cannot give herself to love...
RICH: Gentlest of the House of Woolf yet feared as "The Lamb," leader of THE PHOENIX and sworn enemy of the most dazzling empire humankind has ever known...
Comment: Not much better than the later addition -- Concord society is explicitly patriarchal (and hence "a woman born to rule" is somewhat misleading, although not entirely without precedent), and the Concord is largely ignorant of the existence of "The Lamb".

Back cover blurb from Shadow of the Swan, 1985 edition:
A proud empire enters the ultimate battle for supremacy...

Forced to renounce his legacy of power as heir to the mighty House of Dekoven Woolf, Lord Alexand enters the Society of the Phoenix, and takes on a secret identity to save civilization.

Joining forces with Andres Riis, the brilliant, aging inventor of the ultimate weapon, and Erica Radek, the psychoscientist who wields the mind of a computer with a woman's passion -- Commander Alex Ransom vows to infiltrate the ruling hierarchy of the Concord.

When he learns that his beloved Lady Adrien, thinking him dead, is betrothed to another, he vows to find her. Yet even as he searches, an enemy of deadly personal ambition has thrown the fate of the Phoenix Society -- and Commander Alex Ransom -- into treacherous balance...
Comment: This blurb has a couple of problems. First, it doesn't make it immediately clear that Alexand takes the name "Alex Ransom" as his cover, for reasons that are clear in the story. Second, Erica Radek doesn't "wield the mind of a computer with a woman's passion" -- once again this is apparently just the publicist's incredibly sexist way of saying that she is smart. Finally, the phrase "enemy of deadly personal ambition" is very poorly worded -- it sounds like someone who is against personal ambition, when it is really someone with a great deal of personal ambition.

Back cover blurb from Shadow of the Swan, 1981 edition:
The magnificent saga of a great family's role in the fall and rebirth of Man:
DR. ERICA RADEK: Chief psychoscientist and founding member of THE PHOENIX, she had the mind of a computer and the heart of a woman...
DR. ANDREAD RIIS: The frail, elderly genius whose inventions could take Man beyond the stars -- if his enemies let him live!
COMMANDER ALEX RANSON [sic]: He had abandoned ConFleet's [sic] pinnacles of power in the hope of saving Man's crumbling empire. He may have been too late...
Comment: Of course Dr. Radek had the heart of a woman -- she also had the eyes of a woman, the kidneys of a woman, the spleen of a woman, etc.. In addition, "Ranson" should be "Ransom" and "ConFleet" should be "Confleet."

Back cover blurb from House of the Wolf, 1985 edition:
In the twilight of a doomed civilization, a legacy of daring was their greatest weapon...

In a universe on the brink of war, the Phoenix is the last bulwark between civilization and anarchy. Commander Alex Ransom, once a scion of the Concord's ruling House of DeKoven Woolf, has taken his place as a leader in the Phoenix Council. Now, wounded, he fights for his life -- even as the fate of the universe hangs in the balance.

Yet there are others who vow to carry on the Phoenix legacy. Jael, an Outsider, son of fugitives and thieves, who will become a devoted servant to humankind...Dr. Erica Radek, who fights for one man's life as she would for the future of a doomed empire...and Lady Adrien Eliseer, a woman of fragile beauty and noble birth who holds onto a dream of love that no war can destroy.

The councils of war gather and wait. Soon the most dazzling and corrupt empire in the history of humankind must fall to the bold and triumphant legacy of the Phoenix...
Comment: "Stand back, or I will wield my legacy of daring against you! (It is very sharp.)" The "universe," in this case, consists of the two star systems containing Sol and Alpha Centauri; I guess "...the fate of two tiny systems out on the rim of the galaxy..." wouldn't sell as many books.

Back cover blurb from House of the Wolf, 1981 edition:
The triumphant conclusion to the magnificent saga of an empire that spans the stars:
JAEL: The son of a thief, he became the servant of the highest destiny of all...
LADY ADRIEN ELISEER: A woman of fragile beauty and tragic legacy, she hid behind a veil of secrets and carried the burden of an unspeakable dream...
COMMANDER ALEX RANSOM: In a universe torn asunder, he was a leader of strength and vision. And a target his enemies could not afford to miss...
Comment: By avoiding saying anything, the writer of this back cover blurb managed to avoid saying anything that was incorrect.

Historical timeline of the universe of the The Phoenix Legacy

Below are some of the key dates in the history between now and the 33rd century.

Year Significance
1945 First atomic explosive.
1969 First Lunar Landings.
2030 Beginning of the Decades of Disaster and the Great Drought.
2040 End of the Great Drought.
2044 The Nuclear Wars, and the beginning of the Pandemic.
2060 Arbitrary end of the Decades of Disaster. Death of the last Prime Minister of Conta Austrail. Arbitrary beginning of the Second Dark Age.
2560 Bishop Colona writes The Revelations; beginning of Orthodox Church of Holy Mezion.
2585 Formation of the Holy Confederation of Conta Austrail. Feudal holds of Conta Austrail united under the banners of Colona's Orthodox Church of Holy Mezion and Lord Even Pilgram
2761 Invention of the Darwin cell, an energy storage and amplification device that makes surface-collected solar energy a viable power source. Industrial renaissance begins. Exploration and trade outside Conta Austrail begins.
2839 Birth of Lord Patric Eyre Ballarat, "father of the PanTerran Confederation."
2876 Beginning of the Wars of Confederation. Enactment of the Articles of Union and defacto creation of the PanTerran Confederation. Creation of the Directorate. Creation of the terms "Bond," "Fesh" (from "professional") and "Elite."
2903 End of the Wars of Confederation.
2920 Death of Lord Ballarat
3000 First Lunar Landing since the Disasters.
3052 Ela Tolstyne's Treatise on Matter/Anti-Matter Interactions published.
. More to come...

Overview of the Concord

[Under construction]

Plot summary [Here be SPOILERS]

[Under construction]

Unanswered questions and potential inconsistencies [Here be SPOILERS]

[Under construction]

Thoughts concerning a Phoenix Legacy roleplaying game

[Under construction]