Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
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.
It is rare that a YA fantasy novel strays from the familiar set of Western mythologies and legends. Silver Phoenix is a refreshing change. Drawing heavily on Chinese folk tales, history, and culture, Silver Phoenix is an adventure story full of evil spirits with a good dose of friendship and a little romance thrown in.
Ai Ling is the daughter of a doting father, a former scholar in the emperor's court. Her father leaves to go to the palace and gives her a jade pendant upon his departure. He is gone longer than expected and a nasty, predatory businessman tries to force Ai Ling to marry him to pay off her father's supposed debts. Rather than subject herself to such horrors, Ai Ling sets off to find her father.
She quickly finds a young man, Chen Yong, who is also searching for his father. Chen Yong is handsome, thoughtful, and strong, but also has a shell that is hard to break through. He and Ai Ling both attract and repel on another. They are shortly joined by Chen Yong's younger brother who is a breath of fresh air. Always ready with a joke (usually bordering on being distasteful), Li Rong is easy to like and is a welcome relief from the more serious Ai Ling and Chen Yong.
The three characters have to battle multiple evil spirits on their way to find their fathers. I thought this was the weakest part of the book, despite being the major plot line. Some of the evil spirits were sexual in a way that felt weird. Mostly, my problem with the evil spirit part was that I didn't get it. The book didn't establish the world well enough for me to understand what was going on until I was significantly into the book. By that point, it was too late for me to form an emotional attachment to the story.
On a brighter note, I very much liked the characters. I liked Ai Ling's strength and determination. She managed to be a kick-butt heroine, while still maintaining her femininity. She was stubborn in fighting. She also cared deeply about her family, Chen Yong, and Li Ron. I liked seeing how fiercely she loved. Chen Yong was a great love interest. I like the strong, silent type. He challenged Ai Ling and was frustrating at times, but I loved his devotion to his family and his inner strength. Li Rong was just fun. I don't really go for the joker types, but he played off the other two characters well.
A highlight of this book was the food. Ai Ling sure loves her food. The author took care to describe every meal and snack in great detail. As someone who has spent time in Taiwan and Japan and loves authentic Asian food, this book made me drool continuously for hours. I'd recommend it for that reason alone.
Silver Phoenix is an odd book in that I didn't love the main plot line, but I did love the characters and food descriptions. I'd still say it's worth reading.
Rating: 3.5 / 5