If you are in need of a fantasy novel with some serious girl power, then I can’t think of a better choice than Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix. Pon’s debut could be described as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon meets great YA fantasy, like Kristin Cashore’s Graceling perhaps. However you characterize it, I’m sure you’ll be entirely wrapped up in Pon’s delicious blend of adventure, rich Chinese mythology and romance. This is a story to chase away mid-winter blahs.
It’s the tale of 17-year-old Ai Ling, who escapes the looming fate of an arranged marriage by running away on a quest to find her beloved father. She journeys towards the Palace of Fragrant Dreams, where she believes her father may be held against his will. Along the way, she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own. She also discovers that she has a mysterious power. She is able to enter the minds of others, and sometimes, she can control their actions. Chen Yong and Ai Ling become traveling companions, and they face demons and gods bent on their destruction, along the way.
Cindy Pon has a real talent for dynamic action sequences. Yes, admittedly I have watched Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon oh, about 9 times, but I think that even without those images in my mind, I would have been impressed by Pon’s ability to conjure some awesome martial arts moments. There is a particularly memorable scene in which Chen Yong and his brother spar with one another. You can imagine every move in your head. Loved that. Li Rong (the brother) is particularly well-drawn. He’s funny and charming and a bit of a rogue. I admired that Pon managed to communicate a real richness in this world without getting bogged down in exposition. The details are revealed organically, which makes for smooth reading. And did I mention the food? Well, you better have a great take-out place that delivers dumplings and noodle soup when you start reading Silver Phoenix, because you will be wanting some as soon as Ai Ling gets hungry. Food pops in all throughout the narrative. Automatic bonus points from Shelf Elf.
I will be very eager to read the next book in this series (a trilogy? I can only hope).
Silver Phoenix is published by Greenwillow Books.