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Book Club Questions for The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn

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the phoenix crown discussion guide

Book club questions for The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn explore the themes of ambition, resilience, and the pursuit of justice amidst the backdrop of historical events such as the San Francisco earthquake and the opulent settings of Paris and Versailles.

This book grabbed my attention in many ways. The history, the interesting characters from all walks of life, each expressing themselves artistically, and the bustling city of San Francisco before the terrible earthquake and fire.

This story does not only shed light on a fascinating period in history, but celebrates the strength and courage of women facing adversity.

Let me know your thoughts about the novel! Feel free to comment below.

The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn

In this blog post you will find the discussion questions for The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn.

Book club questions may also prompt discussions on the portrayal of gender roles and societal expectations, the impact of historical events on individual lives, and the complexities of power dynamics and manipulation within relationships.

Have a wonderful book club discussion! ✨

About the Author | Book Club Questions | Additional Recommendations

About the Story

The Phoenix Crown follows two women, Gemma and Suling, whose lives become intertwined amidst the chaos of San Francisco in 1906. Gemma, a talented soprano, and Suling, a determined embroideress, cross paths due to their connection with Henry Thornton, a wealthy railroad magnate.

When a devastating earthquake strikes the city, Thornton disappears, leaving behind a mystery. Five years later, the legendary Phoenix Crown resurfaces in Paris, sparking a final quest for justice as Gemma and Suling join forces.

Release date: February 13, 2024
Genre: Historical World War I Fiction
Hardcover: 391 pages
Publisher: ‎William Morrow Paperbacks

About the Author

kate quinn author

Kate Quinn is a bestselling author from California, known for her captivating historical fiction. Her storytelling journey began at Boston University, where she studied Classical Voice, brings a unique blend of passion and creativity to her storytelling.

From the grandeur of ancient Rome in Mistress of Rome to the intrigue of Renaissance Italy in The Serpent and the Pearl, as well as her more recent works and popular books club picks, The Alice Network or The Huntress, Quinn’s shares her love for history and all things fascinating.

Beyond her literary pursuits, Quinn enjoys adventures ranging from opera to action movies, alongside her unwavering loyalty to the Boston Red Sox. Currently residing in Maryland with her husband, tree rescue pups, and a lovable black dog named Caesar, and you can find more about her daily life on her blog!

Book Club Questions for The Phoenix Crown

Disclaimer: the following discussion questions contain spoilers, so proceed with caution if you haven’t finished the book yet.

  1. What are your thoughts on the historical backdrop of San Francisco in 1906, particularly leading up to the earthquake? Did it enhance your understanding of the characters’ experiences?
  2. Discuss the theme of female empowerment and friendship portrayed in the novel. How do Gemma, Suling, Alice, and Nellie support each other throughout the story?
  3. In the opening chapters, how did the authors use small details to foreshadow the impending earthquake? Consider the significance of the countdown to the disaster and any subtle hints dropped throughout the narrative.
  4. Prior to reading “The Phoenix Crown,” what was your familiarity with the 1906 San Francisco Earthquake? Were you aware of its significance in American history? Have you encountered other literary or factual accounts of this disaster?
  5. Gemma Garland faces numerous obstacles, including health issues and personal misfortune, yet maintains a determined resolve to pursue her career aspirations. Throughout the narrative, how does Gemma’s character evolve, and what lessons does she glean from her experiences? Did your perception of Gemma undergo any changes as the story unfolded?
  6. Gemma and Suling come from vastly different backgrounds but are drawn together by their interactions with Henry Thornton. Discuss how the authors gradually built the connection between these two characters. What subtle cues hinted at their eventual alliance?
  7. Alice’s passion for botany is a recurring motif in the story. Explore how the authors integrated botanical references and imagery into Alice’s character development. Did these details enhance your understanding of her personality and motivations?
  8. Henry Thornton is portrayed as a complex and manipulative character. What are your impressions of him, and how did your perception evolve as the story progressed?
  9. The Phoenix Crown serves as a central symbol in the story. What significance does it hold for each character, and how does its reappearance influence the plot?
  10. Suling represents the first generation of American-born Chinese individuals, grappling with unique challenges of identity and assimilation. Reflect on the complexities of Suling’s situation and the parallels it may draw with contemporary immigrant experiences. How do her struggles resonate with challenges faced by immigrants in today’s society?
  11. What subtle cues or details in Suling’s characterization hinted at her departure from the stereotypical expectations of a Chinese girl during that era? How did the authors effectively integrate these influences into Suling’s narrative, making her characteristics believable and compelling?
  12. Alice Eastwood emerges as a guiding figure for the other women in the novel, showcasing independence, career success, and a strong sense of self. Explore the reciprocal learning process between Alice and the other characters. What valuable insights do they gain from Alice, and conversely, what lessons does she glean from her interactions with them?
  13. Were you surprised by any of the plot twists or revelations throughout the novel? Which moments kept you most engaged in the story?
  14. Henry Thornton’s manipulative nature is gradually revealed over the course of the novel. Examine the clues and hints scattered throughout his interactions with the female characters. How did the authors use subtle dialogue and behavior to convey his true intentions?
  15. The Phoenix Crown serves as a symbol of power and deception in the story. Analyze the significance of small details related to the crown, such as its physical description, historical background, and the emotions it evokes in the characters. How do these details contribute to the overall theme of ambition and betrayal?
  16. The San Francisco earthquake of 1906 dramatically alters the course of the characters’ lives. Reflect on the small moments leading up to the earthquake, such as Gemma’s visit to the opera house and Suling’s interactions with Henry Thornton. How did the authors use these quiet moments to build tension and anticipation?
  17. Explore the role of minor characters, such as Nellie and Reggie, in shaping the protagonists’ decisions and motivations. Consider how actions and conversations with these characters influenced the main storyline and character arcs.
  18. How did the authors incorporate elements of mystery and suspense into the narrative, particularly leading up to the climax of the San Francisco earthquake?
  19. The novel touches on themes of identity, resilience, and the pursuit of dreams. Which character’s journey resonated with you the most, and why?
  20. Were you able to discern the connection between Gemma’s friend, Nelly, and Suling’s love interest, Reggie, before it was explicitly revealed in the narrative? Reflect on any subtle foreshadowing or hints that hinted at this relationship.
  21. Historical fiction often ignites a curiosity to delve deeper into the historical context and background. Identify specific storylines, details, or historical tidbits from “The Phoenix Crown” that piqued your interest and prompted further exploration. How did these elements enhance your understanding of the historical period depicted in the novel?
  22. Chinatown serves as a richly detailed backdrop for Suling’s storyline. Discuss how the authors used small sensory details, such as smells, sounds, and textures, to bring this setting to life. How did these descriptive elements enhance your understanding of Suling’s cultural identity and experiences?
  23. The resolution of the novel hinges on a series of decisions and revelations by the characters. Analyze the significance of these subtle moments in shaping the final outcome. Were there any details or clues that you missed on the first reading, but became clearer upon reflection?
  24. Explore the portrayal of Chinatown and Chinese-American experiences in the novel. How did the authors handle issues of racism, cultural identity, and community within this setting?
  25. Reflect on the epilogue and its portrayal of the characters’ lives in the aftermath of the earthquake. Consider how the authors used glimpses into the characters’ futures to provide closure and resolution to their individual storylines.
  26. Reflect on the ending of the novel and the characters’ resolutions. Did the conclusion satisfy you, or were there aspects you wished were explored further?

Additional Recommendations

Hope you enjoyed the book club discussion questions and reading guide for The Phoenix Crown by Kate Quinn. Here are some more of my book club recommendations from this author, with themes related to this book, along with their synopses:

The Women by Kristin Hannah

From the celebrated author of The Nightingale and The Four Winds comes Kristin Hannah’s The Women—at once an intimate portrait of coming of age in a dangerous time and an epic tale of a nation divided.

Women can be heroes. When twenty-year-old nursing student Frances “Frankie” McGrath hears these words, it is a revelation. Raised in the sun-drenched, idyllic world of Southern California and sheltered by her conservative parents, she has always prided herself on doing the right thing. But in 1965, the world is changing, and she suddenly dares to imagine a different future for herself. When her brother ships out to serve in Vietnam, she joins the Army Nurse Corps and follows his path.

As green and inexperienced as the men sent to Vietnam to fight, Frankie is over-whelmed by the chaos and destruction of war. Each day is a gamble of life and death, hope and betrayal; friendships run deep and can be shattered in an instant. In war, she meets—and becomes one of—the lucky, the brave, the broken, and the lost.

But war is just the beginning for Frankie and her veteran friends. The real battle lies in coming home to a changed and divided America, to angry protesters, and to a country that wants to forget Vietnam.

The Women is the story of one woman gone to war, but it shines a light on all women who put themselves in harm’s way and whose sacrifice and commitment to their country has too often been forgotten. A novel about deep friendships and bold patriotism, The Women is a richly drawn story with a memorable heroine whose idealism and courage under fire will come to define an era.

Queens of London by Heather Webb

Maybe women can have it all, as long as they’re willing to steal it.

1925. London. When Alice Diamond, AKA “Diamond Annie,” is elected the Queen of the Forty Elephants, she’s determined to take the all-girl gang to new heights. She’s ambitious, tough as nails, and a brilliant mastermind, with a plan to create a dynasty the likes of which no one has ever seen. Alice demands absolute loyalty from her “family”—it’s how she’s always kept the cops in line. Too bad she’s now the target for one of Britain’s first female policewomen.

Officer Lilian Wyles isn’t merely one of the first female detectives at Scotland Yard, she’s one of the best detectives on the force. Even so, she’ll have to win a big score to prove herself, to break free from the “women’s work” she’s been assigned. When she hears about the large-scale heist in the works to fund Alice’s new dynasty, she realizes she has the chance she’s been looking for—and the added bonus of putting Diamond Annie out of business permanently.

A tale of dark glamour and sisterhood, Queens of London is a look at Britain’s first female crime syndicate, the ever-shifting meaning of justice, and the way women claim their power by any means necessary, from USA Today bestselling author Heather Webb.

The Book of Doors by Gareth Brown

A debut novel full of magic, adventure, and romance, The Book of Doors opens up a thrilling world of contemporary fantasy for readers of The Midnight LibraryThe Invisible Life of Addie LarueThe Night Circus, and any modern story that mixes the wonder of the unknown with just a tinge of darkness.

Cassie Andrews works in a New York City bookshop, shelving books, making coffee for customers, and living an unassuming, ordinary life. Until the day one of her favorite customers—a lonely yet charming old man—dies right in front of her. Cassie is devastated. She always loved his stories, and now she has nothing to remember him by. Nothing but the last book he was reading.  

But this is no ordinary book…

It is the Book of Doors. 

Inscribed with enigmatic words and mysterious drawings, it promises Cassie that any door is every door. You just need to know how to open them.

Then she’s approached by a gaunt stranger in a rumpled black suit with a Scottish brogue who calls himself Drummond Fox. He’s a librarian who keeps watch over a unique set of rare volumes. The tome now in Cassie’s possession is not the only book with great power, but it is the one most coveted by those who collect them.

Now Cassie is being hunted by those few who know of the Special Books. With only her roommate Izzy to confide in, she has to decide if she will help the mysterious and haunted Drummond protect the Book of Doors—and the other books in his secret library’s care—from those who will do evil. Because only Drummond knows where the unique library is and only Cassie’s book can get them there. 

But there are those willing to kill to obtain those secrets. And a dark force—in the form of a shadowy, sadistic woman—is at the very top of that list.

Happy reading! ❤️