How shall I put this nicely?
I hated this book.
It made The Unicorn look good in comparison.
It's still a work of art compared to Wind of War though!
I usually don't like how magic is portrayed in most fantasy novels and started reading this novel fully aware of that and trying to aoid making any judgment based on that, but while I didn't like how magic was depicted I wish that was the only problem it has.
The plot concerns Tadaka's efforts to uncover Junzo's ploys in the Shadowlands, and the unlocking of the Black Scrolls by the Council.
There is also a romantic sub-plot involving Isawa Kaede and Seppun Ishikawa (already started in The Scorpion), that isn't that interesting, and, if I remember correctly, will never get any kind kind of resolution.
What I find most puzzling is that Sullivan had made The Scorpion characters rather compelling, but in this book e never managed to make them anything other than bland. There are a few exception, Ob the mujina, but he is a comedic sidekick without much depth to it, as well as Kaede and Ishikawa but with no real development from what they already were in the Scorpion.
All other characters seem to be nothing else but spell-slinging automatons with little individuality. Tadaka seems little more than a plot expository device, Ujimitsu never goes beyond an in-universe joke. The reader is never given a reason to care about these characters.
The only moment of emotional depth was the Destruction of the Long Tail Nezumi. This part of the plot was extremely powerful and well done, but ended up highlighting the vapidity of the rest of the book.
On the other hand it seems Sullivan oercame his fascination with Natto writing this book. There is only one mention to the stuff.
Not related to the plot itself, but The Phoenix is the first novel that include a map of Rokugan. It has some interesting choices, Kyuden Kakita is put near Beiden Pass, about the same place where, canonically, Shiro Matsu is usually put and make it's sacking far more logic. Another difference is that in this map the Crane have no lands bellow the Spine of the World either, which kind of raises the question on where Asahina lands are.
Sullivan also continues his tradition of creating a new family. Beside the aforementioned Long Tail nezumi tribe, there is also the Heike vassal family of the Phoenix, which is similar in concept to the Morehei of the Crane.
In the end I wouldn't recommend this book to anyone. Completist or Phoenix diehards might want to get it, but you've been warned!!!