THE PHOENIX PENCIL COMPANY combines the cross-generational relationships and epistolary form of Ruth Ozeki’s A Tale for the Time Being with the magical alternate history and probing questions of R.F. Kuang’s Babel. Told in dual timelines, its overarching question is: who owns a story?

by Allison King
HarperCollins, Summer 2025
(via The Gernert Company)

Yun is a ninety-year-old woman recounting her time growing up in the Phoenix Pencil Company in 1940s Shanghai. While Japan invades China, Yun’s cousin moves in with them, and the two develop a competitive yet loving relationship. When the government discovers their family can magically Reforge a pencil’s words, bringing its words back to life, the cousins are separated and forced into a life of betraying stories in order to survive.

Monica is Yun’s granddaughter, a modern-day college student in America, set on using her software engineering skills to help reunite Yun with her long lost cousin. Through her attempts, she meets Louise, an aspiring digital archivist, ruthlessly determined to record the stories of those who survived World War II. As Monica learns more of Yun’s story, she must confront the same questions her grandmother once did—of what kinds of stories should be preserved, and when data should be left private—all while navigating her growing feelings towards Louise.

THE PHOENIX PENCIL COMPANY is part historical fantasy, part romance, all complex family dynamics, with a smattering of data privacy thrown in. It is loosely inspired by Allison’s own grandparents and the pencil company they once ran in Shanghai.

Allison King is a software engineer based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and has dedicated time to sharing local community stories and working in data privacy. A story of hers is to be featured on LeVar Burton’s podcast this fall, and other pieces have appeared in Fantasy Magazine, Diabolical Plots, and Paula Guran’s Year’s Best Fantasy, among others. She is also a 2023 Reese’s Book Club LitUp fellow.

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