Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia – Cindy Pon
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. Here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale for fans of action, fantasy, and romance–of anything with the making of legend.
I know I’ve already mentioned the ’09 Debs and their kickass heroines multiple times, but I think I’m always going to have a special place in my heart for Silver Phoenix and Cindy Pon. Thank you for FINALLY bringing an admirable Asian teenager to the YA lit arena. I’ve only been waiting my whole life for this!
When we first meet Ai Ling, she’s a traditional, shy, reserved young Xian girl who’s being rejected for an arranged match, a severe blow to her already weak ego. But this is where she discovers the beginnings of her awesome new power: the power to reach into other people’s souls and know all their thoughts, feelings, and emotions. The story chronicles a lot of things, but the best part is watching this girl break out of her shell and start to shine – it is such a delight! She goes from restraining all her feelings to exhibiting open jealousy and self-consciousness, and she’s endearingly funny through it all to boot.
… Ai Ling never felt pretty when she blushed. She always imagined her head turning into a bulbous red radish – the kind Taro liked to dig up and chew.
[Ah, if I could only count the number of times I’ve felt this way!]
Circumstances lead Ai Ling to embark on a valiant journey to find and save her father, without any knowledge of whether he’s alive or not, or of what she’ll find on her journey. But she isn’t alone for long, as she comes across the gorgeous, half-Xian martial arts god Chen Yong who’s on a quest of his own, looking for any information at all on his birth parents. The two are soon joined by Chen Yong’s playfully flirtatious adopted brother Li Rong, and the three encounter all sorts of fascinating adventures within the realms of reality and magic and even beyond. Plus, Ai Ling fights a mysterious dark force that targets her specifically, and learns some interesting powers within herself and some potent forms of protection she didn’t even know she had going for her.
Not only is Ai Ling an awesome force to be reckoned with, she breaks the tired mould in her (literally) ancient world. In a society where women aren’t often allowed out, she takes over responsibility of herself and her mother entirely when the need arises. Where the women of her society aren’t taught to read or write, she has not only read what the men of her age are expected to, but gone a step or two further. But my favorite aspect of all? She shuns an undesirable match that would offer an easy way out of her problems, and looks for love in a world of arranged marriages.
Shunning dogma? Definitely my kind of girl!
If you’re expecting something purely simple and traditional like Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon or Memoirs of a Geisha, think again. Sure, there’s the tradition and the legends, but Silver Phoenix offers a variety of rich visualizations for the wildest and most vast of imaginations, the likes of which I haven’t read since, oh, I don’t know, the Land of Oz? Narnia? Even Hogwarts! Ai Ling and co. are feisty, daring young teenagers with both class and pizzazz. It’s unreal!
I think my only issue with this was that it’s written entirely in third person from Ai Ling’s POV, which made it seem a tad more informal for me. Though that may have been the intention, and a lot of people seem to prefer that format, so this is entirely a personal inclination.
Other than that small detail, it’s a unique and extraordinary thrill ride of one girl out to fulfill her destiny, and you’ll worship every moment of it. Of course, if you’re anything like me, you’re also going to have a really hard time waiting for the sequel!