a sliver


Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon

Greenwillow Books (HarperCollins), 2009.

338 pages, hardcover.

The sequel, Fury of the Phoenix (HarperCollins, 2011) is on my concenter list and is garnering a lot of attention. Figured I would read Book One.

No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger’s subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.

But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn’t only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined.

Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help.

It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help . . . and perhaps more. ~dust jacket.

There is little I can truly say about Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix. I was unable to finish it. I read 124 pages, with a scanning read into the next chapter (10). Perhaps my inability to get into the novel has to do with my attempts to read it while reading Swamplandia! by Karen Russell. I tried again this weekend. But, as it was, I found the writing and storytelling mediocre. Perhaps if my TBR pile were less pressing/distracting, I would just bite down and finish the read. As it is, I am giving myself permission to say, “perhaps another time.”

A good premise. Armed with a mysterious pendant her father bequeaths her and a strange and supernatural power, Ai Ling is on a quest to find her beloved father. The quest functions also as an excuse to strike out on her own after having been rejected as a suitable bride and horrified at the possibility of becoming some disgusting old man’s next young wife. She does want to be “unbetrothed and free.” Of course, wanting to be unbetrothed and free doesn’t exclude her from desiring a mysterious good-looking traveler (not that he remains all that mysterious for long). Very little stays mysterious for long; and, unfortunately, my curiosity as to whether any mystery is created and sustained failed me. I’m sure someone will inform me on this matter; or I may return to this read at a later point.

Exotic landscape. The foreign climes, the creatures and the lore are something to imagine/see, even in the meager 124-and-some pages I read. In a way, it feels like the author is impatient to share her fantastical inventions, and thus the characterization and pacing of story suffers.  The adventure of battling demonic creatures overshadows and interrupts; it’s the part of the formulaic beginnings that Pon can own, I suppose. It may happen that dialogic revelations will be dispensed more convincingly as the story progresses. I did hardly make it half way, 10-ish out of 20 chapters.

I can say that one should likely not read Silver Phoenix on an empty stomach, and Foodies will delight in the ready description of all the meals prepared, served, and eaten. I think fans of a Buffy-ish character could be drawn to the read. There is also some reminiscence of Legend of the Seeker (at least the tv adaptation of Terry Goodkind’s series).


Steph Su is one of my favorite book blog reviewers who reads YA. I checked to see if she’d read Silver Phoenix. She did, giving it 3/5 stars: her review for you.   Hunting through other favorite bloggers who read YA, I was reminded of Shelf Elf’s review, see here; she really enjoyed the read, and amusingly enough, notes the food presence as well.

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