Author: Cindy Pon
Published Date: April 2009
Price: Amazon ($12.23)
No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.
But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined.
Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help.
It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help . . . and perhaps more.
Silver Phoenix is an exotic, traditional Chinese fantasy with the romance and strong protagonist that sets it apart from historical fictions. The fantasy aspects of the evil spirits and the adventure Ai Ling goes on is characterized very well with Pon’s excellent description of China’s beautiful land. Ai Ling, on a journey to rescue her father, has obstacles from her past life, in which a man falls in a fateful love with her. As she is about to be defeated, Chen Yong supports her as he looks for his own identity and past. Their pasts and their futures are intertwined and written by the future.
The plot’s originality with the combination of the well developed characters creates a page-turning tale. The fantasy creatures and spirits that attack Ai Ling are described so well that made me shiver as I imagined maggots on a person’s face (it really did happen). Also, the different stages of the journey don’t lag in action, and even if nothing happens, Pon creates an aura of suspense as anything might attack the characters. The beauty of the landscape and the setting, including the yummily delicious food (I was drooling while I was reading this) portray the Chinese setting that you might not know about.
I also love the characters and the chemistry between Ai Ling and Chen Yong. Ai Ling’s character development is created very well, from a naïve girl who’s closeted within her protective family to a woman who’s experienced evil beyond imagination, death (I won’t say whose because there are a few), and the harsh measures against women’s inferiority. Ai Ling is able to not only able to rise up from these challenges but also keep her head up as she learns how to defy the woman’s boundaries within her husband’s house. However, I felt a little bit more dialogue could keep the story more paced and express Ai Ling better. Chen Yong’s supportive and deep, emotional past created a great supporting character. Zhong Ye, the antagonist, could have been developed better, maybe going deeper into his past. I felt a tugging notion that maybe he isn’t all that bad and the insults and shun he receives from others in the past created Zhong Ye’s evil nature.
Another feature that the book can be developed on is Ai Ling’s past and the pendant. I thought we could learn more about Silver Phoenix and why she decided to sacrificed her life. I also wanted to learn more about the pendant and where all the power to save her came from.
I initially picked up the book because of the cover. The striking dress and the pendant, with the colorful background, make this one of the books that I would buy just to look at the cover. Even though it is very colorful that it does blind you a bit, the pretty Asian model, which her fierceness can represent Ai Ling, helps me picture her.
The book’s original plot, with the fantasy elements and the evil spirits that you’ll probably never meet if you traveled back in time to China, creates a unique novel. I also love the combination of the adventure and the romance, even though I wish Chen Yong’s feeling could be reciprocated and is shown more. This is one book you can judge by the cover and I cannot wait for the sequel this fall!