Catherine's Reviews > Silver Phoenix

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
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Aug 10, 2010

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bookshelves: 2010, 50books_poc2010, china
Read in August, 2010

This book leaves me as confused as ever as to what constitutes a YA novel. The language in Silver Phoenix is much simpler than I've read in other YA works (I Am The Messenger springs to mind), but the themes here are profoundly adult - love, sex, marriage, horror, gore.

Ai Ling, the central protagonist, is a heroine to be fond of, blasting her way (as she does) through tradition and otherworlds to find her kidnapped father at the Emperor's palace. She's educated - and her literacy is not just a check-point for 'emancipated woman,' but rather one of the things that drives the plot - brave, dutiful (to a point - she runs away, leaving her mother alone, to find her father), and capable of stabbing, killing, and manipulating people when she needs to. Her magical powers come with (thanks, Spiderman) great responsibility, and her journey to the imperial palace is as much a journey of the self as journey in the world. It's love that vanquishes evil, in the end, and Ai Ling's extraordinary story doesn't end with her actions at the palace.

Things I loved - the introduction to the folk tales and myths (or are they?) of Ancient China, and to travel through a fantasy realm that was so thoroughly not Western. (There's a dragon - but oh, he's so not a Western dragon.) Things that dragged - the prose, and the pace to some degree. Mostly there was repetition that grated, with multiple chapters ending with Ai Ling falling into an exhausted sleep and waking up to face some new challenge next morning. I'm a fan of sleep as a fictive trope, but this was so overused as to be eye-roll worthy.

Still - I will definitely check out the next book in the series, if nothing else because this one ended very unsatisfyingly in one key way (and to reveal which way would reveal the end of the book, so I'll just leave it at that.)
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