Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

12 04 2012

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

With a sweeping quest and Chinese-inspired mythology, this debut fantasy introduces a heroine who sheds the constrictions of her sheltered life, discovers the well of power within herself, and vanquishes an age-old evil.

In some advertisements you see and hear that it is “____ for people who don’t like _____”. For instance, when Stephenie Meyer’s The Host first came out, Little, Brown, her publisher, chose to promote the novel as “science fiction for people who don’t like science fiction.”

I’d say that Silver Phoenix could also be described this way, as “fantasy for people who don’t like fantasy”. It’s built upon genre tropes but starts to triumph and become more of an engaging fantasy, providing enough details for fantasy lovers and enough explanations for those who tend to shy away from the genre.

Ai Ling is going on a quest. After she is almost forced to marry an old man after her father disappears, she decides to go on a quest to save her father and get away from the arranged marriage. She meets up with Chen Yong, who is also on a quest, and his brother Li Rong.  Ai Ling soon discovers that she can enter people’s souls, using a necklace that her father gifted her. They must find her father and save the kingdom from an evil dictator.

The crux of the plot is built on a formulaic plot. The first few chapters seemed to almost be a hodgepodge of  fantasy cliches: arranged marriage, missing father, quest, secret power. I found the first few chapters fairly boring and mundane, but the plot seemed to pick up once Ai Ling neared found Chen Yong and they started to journey together.

One thing that I disliked about the plot was how sometimes things seemed too quick. Ai Ling would reach somewhere, have to fight a battle, and then they would move on. These chapters would seem to move so fast that I barely understood what was going on without rereading. I understood that Pon wanted to have an action-packed plot, but at times the plot seemed too fast.

Also, the main death of the story — a crucial point — seemed barely dwelled upon. This death greatly impacted the story, and the death and funeral were taken care of in a couple of chapters. The remaining characters would also remark upon the death at times, but as they had grown to spend so much time with this character (and the readers had, too) it seemed like they would spend more time dwelling upon the death.

Otherwise, however, the plot was rich and interesting. The descriptions of food were very intriguing and it made me grateful that I ate lunch while reading this novel.  The historical aspects were also done well, without info-dumping of any kind, and added an extra layer to the novel.  The book, like I said, would be a good read for both fantasy and non-fantasy lovers, and I can see it having wide appeal. (I also found it funny, that in the “Afterwords” section of the paperback edition, Pon remarks that many readers have sent her angry letters saying that they got extremely hungry while reading the novel.)

The characters I honestly never felt a real attachment towards.I think it was because the novel was more focused on the action aspects then characterization, Ai Ling was a good character, with a goal — save her father — and an interesting personality, but I felt detached from her. I felt like we didn’t learn much about Chen Yong either, and he ws more an archetype — boy searching for his family — than a character. Likewise Li Rong’s jokes were funny, but several people pointed out to me that it seems inappropriate for the time period and that he probably wouldn’t be cracking such crude jokes in, erm, ancient China (or Japan, I’m not sure).

Pon’s writing was strong but it seemed unnecessary to use third person. The only person we ever get inside the head of is Ai Ling, and I think the plot might have been better in a first-person POV.

Above all, though, Silver Phoenix was a good read and i may have to track down the sequel.

3.5 stars. 

I picked this book up at the library.





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