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Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

March 31, 2009

cover of Silver Phoenix by Cindy PonAi Ling’s father is summoned to the Palace. He estimates it will take two months to reach the Palace, then return home. But more than seven months pass without word from him, the family’s finances are strained, and a wealthy but slimy older merchant is determined to use her father’s absence to marry Ai Ling. Instead, Ai Ling escapes his clutches, determined to reach the Palace and to discover what happened to her father.

Ai Ling expects the journey to be dangerous. After all, she is a young, unmarried girl of good family in a society that expects them to stay at home with their parents. But the journey is more treacherous than she had ever imagined, for there are strange creatures and beings she never knew existed trying to stop her.

The first thing that struck me about Silver Phoenix (okay, besides the cover and the fact that the prologue is basically a childbirth scene, so maybe this was actually the third thing to strike me) was the voice and style Cindy Pon uses to tell this story. It’s sensuous, with lines like,

She fought to quell her trembling as Liao Kang stepped forward and extended his hand. He was a bamboo of a boy, the barely green type, with large almond eyes in a pale face. (p. 5 of ARC; all quotes hereafter also from ARC)

She paused and lifted her elegant head to admire the moon. Ai Ling felt her sorrow, smothering the exquisite scent of jasmine, dimming the starlight above. (p. 18)

A small breeze rustled the grass. It undulated like waves, carrying the scent of burned rice fields. (p. 331)

I’m usually a pretty fast reader, but the combination of the vivid imagery and deliberate pacing made me slow down and savor the writing. This is not to say that the story is slow, because it’s not. There is action and intrigue, and though Silver Phoenix read to me as utilizing Western fantasy tropes in a distinctly East Asian setting, I also never knew where the story would go next. The worldbuilding is fantastic, richly realized and helped, no doubt, by Pon’s prose. Because of its Chinese roots, the fantasy world will seem very fresh to most readers, but it never overwhelms Ai Ling’s story, never slows down the momentum of the story.

If I have a few criticisms, they are minor ones overall. I found some of Ai Ling’s escapes and newfound abilities to sometimes be too convenient, and the ending of the novel is abrupt, begging for a sequel, instead of being a completely satisfying, self-contained whole on its own. I also occasionally wondered about the likelihood of a girl of Ai Ling’s class leaving home to escape marriage and set off on a quest, regardless of the implications to her family’s honor and face, but, well, if Mulan can do something like it, I suppose Ai Ling can, too. And truthfully, it was easy to suspend my disbelief, to allow myself to be drawn into the world Cindy Pon created.

Silver Phoenix will be published on April 28, 2009.

15 Comments leave one →
  1. March 31, 2009 3:39 pm

    my first YA blog review! hurrah! thank you!
    and interestingly, i didn’t write the ending
    to lead to a sequel. it was the right ending for
    me in my mind for my hero and heroine as
    i had always set out [SPOILER] to write a story
    about unrequited love. it’s something i was very
    familiar with as a teen and resonates for me.

    but when it went to my editor and she wanted
    to buy the novel, she emailed my agent and asked,
    there’s a sequel, right? and there is one in my mind. =)

    thank you again for taking the time to read my debut
    and post such a thoughtful review!

  2. March 31, 2009 4:09 pm

    Alrighty, it’s going on my TBR list… 🙂

  3. March 31, 2009 5:05 pm

    I’m sooooo stoked for this novel!

  4. April 1, 2009 1:07 am

    Well, the cover is certainly lush and gorgeous, and you make it sounds like something I need to nibble on a little at a time to get the full sumptuous effect of the meal. I LOVE books like that. Thanks for the recommendation.

  5. Lesley permalink
    April 1, 2009 4:01 am

    Oops, how embarassing. In my enthusiasm to post a comment here I actually made a boo boo and posted it on another thread! HAHA! Anyway I just wanted to say that yes, I felt the same way about slowing down to enjoy the imagery and the lovely prose too! I loved, loved, loved every moment of it and was quite sad it when it came to an end. Thank goodness there’s a sequel! SILVER PHOENIX is a wonderful and satisfying read!!!


  6. April 2, 2009 5:38 am

    thank you, everyone!

    lesley, i’m so glad you enjoyed the book.

  7. April 2, 2009 6:01 am

    I was lucky enough to be sent an ARC of this book and I loved it! It kept me occupied through a long plane ride and then late into that night…I couldn’t put it down. Three cheers for Cindy Pon–and hurry up with that sequel!

  8. April 2, 2009 11:49 am

    wt!! thank you meg!

    ! ! ! ! !

    it’s an honor that you were kind
    enough to read and blurb my little
    debut. thank you!!!

  9. Amy permalink
    April 3, 2009 11:54 am

    This is a bit off-topic, but is there an online resource that lets you keep track of the books you’ve read/have yet to read? I just want to plug in my titles and revisit to update. And yes, I realize I could just keep my own tracker or blog but shouldn’t there already be something like this somewhere on the internet? Somebody suggested MSN Spaces, but it’s a little too simplistic for what I’m picturing. I’d like to share this space with friends and family. Short of creating a personal blog and giving out the password, is there another way? Thanks in advance.

  10. April 3, 2009 5:23 pm

    amy, i use
    but there’s many resources such
    as librarything and shelfari.

  11. April 17, 2009 8:23 am

    Great review – I am just starting, but I’ve already noticed the beautiful imagery.

  12. Sharon permalink
    December 25, 2009 3:42 pm

    Thank goodness, there’s a sequel!


  1. Summer Blog Blast Tour: Cindy Pon « The YA YA YAs
  2. Covers, Part 1: Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix « The YA YA YAs

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