Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Review: SILVER PHOENIX by Cindy Pon

Pon, Cindy. Silver Phoenix. New York: Greenwillow Books, 2009. ISBN: 978-0061730214. 352 pages. $17.99. Young Adult. Grade 9 and Up.

Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia is the debut novel by author Cindy Pon. Set in the fictional land of Xia, the story follows seventeen year-old Ai Ling hopes on a quest to find her father, who is being held captive at the kingdom’s imperial Palace of Fragrant Dreams. In turn, she hopes to save herself from a forced marriage to a despicable local merchant. Her journey includes supernatural powers, mythical lands, magical monsters, and the realization that her destiny is controlled in part by an incarnation from a past life.

We learn Ai Ling can read minds and control the actions of others; we discover that her past and present are inextricably bound to the Silver Phoenix, consort of the immortal Zhong Ye, advisor to the imperial line. Of course, this is the reason that Zhong Ye holds her father captive at the imperial place. Master Zhong wishes to return the full spirit of his heart’s desire to Ai Ling’s corporeal form, and knows the only way to draw her to the palace is by using her father as bait!

Of course, what would a high fantasy adventure be without a couple of travel companions? Joining Ai Ling on her quest are brothers Chen Yong and Li Rong. Chen Yong is the illegitimate son of one of the Emperor’s consorts and an emissary from the land across the sea, Jiang Dao. Both brothers are athletic and dashing, but Chen Yong struggles with his orphaned existence and mixed race identity. He’s not just here to help Ai Ling, he’s searching for the truth about his parents and his origins.

Pon weaves Silver Phoenix’s past with Ai Ling’s present and Chen Yong’s search rather neatly. The story is action filled and artfully descriptive. Pon is obviously a foodie-- I can’t remember the last time a story made me feel so hungry!

The narrative does contain mature scenes with graphic violence, including a near rape.

In the current trend of young adult fantasy and science fiction, the high fantasy mode hasn’t been particularly prolific. Pon provides not only highly developed fantasy but also, notably, a much needed non-Caucasian heroine in a non-Western context.

Heather Tylock

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