Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

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. 🙂

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Tempting Persephone
The Eager Readers
Presenting Lenore
The Story Siren

10 thoughts on “Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

  1. I’m sorry this one didn’t work out better for you. I read Steph Su’s review and it seems like you had a similar reaction. Love the artwork from the website! It’s a shame that wasn’t used. Thanks for posting both the review and the images. I’m not in any hurry to read this now, for sure. 😉

    • I actually talked to Steph on Twitter and I told her that it seems like we had the same reaction to the book. I love that artwork too, wish it was used for the book though. Did you see the other artwork here?

      I’m sad that I didn’t like it as much as I expected. I hope you still get to read this, maybe you can borrow it from the library if you get the chance.

  2. Thanks for posting your review Chachic – I’ve seen lots of talk about it due to the cover but not a ton of great things about the book itself. Good to know I don’t have to rush out and get it immediately 😉

    • There really has been a lot of talk about the cover – I feel bad that they couldn’t use the artwork that Cindy posted on her blog. I mean I think that’s even lovelier than the original cover. Let me know if you ever get to read this, Michelle. You might end up liking it more than I did. 🙂

  3. The artwork is stunning! I am sorry to hear that the book itself is not that great. If I do read the book, I will keep my expectations low.
    Thanks for the review!

    • Hey Misha, yes, that would be a good idea. Maybe I was disappointed because I had high expectations and I really wanted to like this book because I don’t get to read a lot of Asian YA fantasy.

  4. That paperback cover is so ugh… But the artwork that the author posted (while lovely) isn’t really that unique for me. Maybe because going into any bookstore in China, Taiwan, or Hong Kong would literally present me with rows of shelves filled with Chinese books that use the same airbrushed style? Hehe.

    One of my favorite Chinese artists (she does book cover too) is Der Jen. She has dozens of artbooks out, as well as a tarot deck (which I own). Here’s a link to an online gallery with her work:

    I don’t like the washed-out images that appear in the first page, but the later ones have a lot of images that use richer color schemes, which IMO work far better.

    As for fantasy YA books set in Asia, I already recommended Kara Dalkey’s Little Sister to you right? It’s set in Japan and not China though. Another favorite is Kij Johnson’s Fox Woman, but I think that one’s not YA.

    • LOL maybe it’s unique for me because I’ve never been to China, Taiwan or Hong Kong. And this is an English book so I think the target market wouldn’t think the design of the artwork as too common.

      Is Little Sister a YA fantasy novel? Can’t remember if you mentioned it already but I’ll look it up.

    • I checked the artist’s deviantart page, and she really *is* a cover artist for those Chinese novels. Hehe.

      I can’t read Chinese novels without having a huge Chinese-English dictionary handy though, so I’ve never bought one of those books. It’s nice to just browse the shelves and look at the pretty covers though, but unlike English novel covers where you can tell at a glance who the cover artist is, those Chinese covers all start to look alike after a while (I can only say the same for English genre fiction in refrence to the photomontages in most paranormal fiction books these days).

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