Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: FURY OF THE PHOENIX by Cindy Pon

Pon, Cindy. Fury of the Phoenix. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0-06-173025-2. 362 pages. $17.99. Young Adult.

Cindy Pon continues the adventures of Ai Ling in Fury of the Phoenix, the 2009 sequel to her debut novel, Silver Phoenix. Chapters alternate between two complementary story lines. In one, Ai Ling joins her friend Chen Yong as he seeks his father. The (unlikely) second story line occurs in the distant past, following the rise to power of Zhong Ye, our heroine’s immortal adversary from the first novel in the series.

The story begins with Ai Ling attempting to stow away on the Gliding Dragon. A dream has told her she must get aboard; Chen Yong’s life depends on it. Once Ai Ling is aboard and Chen Yong is safe, they decide it is best for them to pose as siblings. The perilous voyage, combining pirates and sea monsters, is complicated because the young duo must share a cabin. And, as if dealing with palpable sexual tension weren’t dangerous enough, both hero and heroine must navigate the customs and politics of a foreign land. The storylines merge when Ai Ling battles Zhong Ye for Chen Yong’s soul.

The second narrative takes place three hundred years in the past and follows the young Zhong Ye as he chooses castration to enter the service of the emperor in the Palace of Fragrant Dreams. The ambitious eunuch gains the favor of the emperor by saving his life and providing him with a fertile concubine to give him an heir. In the process, Zhong Ye begins a love affair with the concubine’s handmaid, Silver Phoenix. As the story unfolds, Zhong Ye must choose between his love for Silver Phoenix and his desire for immortality.

Pon braids both narratives beautifully with fast paced action scenes and detailed descriptions. It’s not often, well, perhaps ever, that an author creates a story with a truly sympathetic villain, much less an emasculated protagonist. Fury of the Phoenix navigates a sexual, political, and racial politic so as to challenge the stereotypical themes in most of the novels in the genre.

Heather Tylock

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