Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon is a Chinese-inspired YA fantasy novel. Last week, I mentioned in my Knife review that R.J. Anderson is a fellow Sounisian and Megan Whalen Turner fan. I believe Cindy Pon is also a fan and look, they even went surfing together! My friend gave me a copy of Silver Phoenix for my birthday last year so I’ve had it for almost a year. I’m sorry it has taken me this long to read it but there are just so many books in the TBR pile.
Here’s the summary from Cindy Pon’s website:
On the day of her first betrothal meeting – and rejection – Ai Ling discovers a power welling deep within her. She can reach into other people’s spirits, hear their thoughts, see their dreams… and that’s just the beginning.
Ai Ling has been marked by the immortals; her destiny lies in the emperor’s palace, where a terrible evil has lived, stealing souls, for centuries. She must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step. And then she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers.
I know there’s been a lot of talk about the cover for this book and how the design from the hardcover (pictured above) changed to this design for the paperback. I don’t want to go into that here but I wanted to point out an artwork for the book that I found from the author’s website:
Isn’t that beautiful? It shows Chen Yong and Ai Ling. How I wish that this lovely artwork was used for the cover instead. So I really liked that this book is different from other fantasy novels because of its Asian flavor. I may not know a lot about Chinese history and culture but it was refreshing to read about Eastern myths for a change. Several people warned me that I might go hungry while reading this book because of all the food references. I just said that we have a lot of Chinese restaurants here in the Philippines so that’s not going to be a problem. I thought it was great that Ai Ling had such a big appetite and that most meals are described in detail. At the start of the novel, Ai Ling reminded me of Disney’s Mulan because they’re both unsuccessful at becoming proper brides and they both run away from home to go on quests. That’s where the similarities end and Ai Ling’s story goes a different way.
As much as I loved that Ai Ling’s adventures involved demons and mythical creatures derived from Chinese lore, I felt like there were too many of them in the story. I mean yes, I get that Ai Ling is coming into her own powers and these demons were needed to show how she developed her abilities while fighting against them but eventually, I got tired of it. Also, I wasn’t as invested in Ai Ling as I would’ve liked – I wasn’t rooting for her because I felt like she would be able to get out of whatever predicament she manages to fall into because that’s what kept happening in the book. It felt like there was a disconnect between me as a reader and Ai Ling as a character and that kept me from being truly immersed in the story. Those were some of the problems that I had and while I didn’t exactly fall in love Silver Phoenix, I’d still recommend it to fantasy fans because of its unique world. It’s certainly better than some of the YA paranormal books (yes, I’m not a fan) that are available right now. I think it would be great if more Asian YA fantasy novels are released in the future. I would probably pick up the sequel, Fury of the Phoenix, to find out what happens next to Ai Ling because this one was a bit open-ended. Oh it looks like Fury of the Phoenix will be released on my birthday, March 29. 🙂