On the day of her first betrothal meeting–and rejection–Ai Ling discovers a power welling deep within her. She can reach into other people’s spirits, hear their thoughts, see their dreams…and that’s just the beginning.
Ai Ling has been marked by the immortals; her destiny lies in the emperor’s palace, where a terrible evil has lived, stealing souls, for centuries. She must conquer this enemy and rescue her captive father, while mythical demons track her every step. And then she meets Chen Yong, a young man with a quest of his own, whose fate is intertwined with hers. Here is a heart-stopping, breathtaking tale for fans of action, fantasy, and romance–of anything with the making of legend.
*Silver Phoenix named one of best fantasy, science fiction and horror novels in 2009 by VOYA!
*Silver Phoenix on the New York Public Library’s “Stuff for the Teen Age” list–in fantastic company!
*Silver Phoenix is a Booklist Editor’s Choice for young adult reads in 2009!
*Silver Phoenix makes the TAYSHAS 2010 list, a recommended novel for teens nominated by Texas librarians. Thank you!!
If the cover image of a fearless Chinese heroine reminds readers of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that’s intentional; the story inside will, too. First-time novelist Pon has a screenwriter’s talent for producing a sweeping saga, and in this, the first of two books set in ancient China, 17-year-old Ai Ling faces demons, monsters, and gods as she tries to fulfill her destiny. Frightened after a local man tries to blackmail her into marriage, Ai Ling resolves to journey to the emperor’s palace where her missing father was last seen. Along the way, she meets the handsome Chen Yong, who is of mixed parentage and on a quest to find answers to questions about his family that have haunted him his whole life. (In the story’s prologue, readers get hints about his origins.) As in most martial-arts movies, the story sometimes takes a back seat to the action, but Pon doesn’t stint when it comes to her characters. Ai Ling is a clever and determined heroine, Chen’s younger brother is a witty teen whose girl-crazy ways transcend the centuries, and even the monsters have dimension. Pon’s writing, both fluid and exhilarating, shines whether she’s describing a dinner delicacy or what it feels like to stab an evil spirit in the gut. There’s a bit of sex here, including a near rape, but it’s all integral to a saga that spins and slashes as its heroine tries to find her way home.
~Ilene Cooper, ALA’s BOOKLIST, starred review
Cindy Pon’s Silver Phoenix is also a first novel, and it has pretty much nothing in common with Larsen’s debut. In structure, it’s a much more traditional fantasy novel, but its setting is not a generic Europe; instead, it’s Asian. Pon’s writing is graceful, clean, and assured; she opens with the slightly premature birth of a young boy. His mother is one of the Emperor’s concubines; the boy, however, is clearly not the Emperor’s son. In order to save the life of a child she will never see again, she sends him away.
Almost twenty years later, the book starts with the very different life of young Ai Ling, who has been dressed and made up as a suitable bride to meet a possible groom’s family. It does not go well. Ai Ling is of marriageable age, but she is tall, and her father is not a wealthy man; he is a man who once served in the Imperial Court, and is now living well away from it. In Ai Ling’s society, not surprisingly, it is the duty of a daughter to marry well, and while she doesn’t actually want to be married, she feels that the rejection is a failure on her part.
Her father is called unexpectedly to Court, and in his long absence, he is accused of owing a monstrously self-indulgent man a great deal of money; the man is willing to forgo the debt in return for Ai Ling’s hand. Ai Ling, who can read, and her mother, who can’t, know that the merchant is lying—but they also know that in this patriarchal world, it’s his word against theirs. So Ai Ling runs away from home in order to retrieve her missing father.
This is a lovely first novel, and the ending is left (I hope) open for more stories about Ai Ling and Chen Yong. I’m looking forward to them.
~Michelle West, Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine
“Spirit possession, reincarnation, nasty demons, and even a touch of romance permeate this novel set in ancient China. The story follows the young heroine, Ai Ling, across a landscape of altered reality as she searches for her father, who she suspects is a prisoner within the Emperor’s palace. Her travels elicit a string of grisly encounters that lead her to the evil Zhong Ye, who has survived for centuries by consuming the souls of unborn children. A terrified Ai Ling finally learns the truth : she is the reincarnation of Silver Phoenix, Zhong Ye’s ancient love who has returned to be his wife. Sensitive readers will squirm as Zhong Ye weds Ai Ling and then tries (unsuccessfully) to consummate their marriage against her will.
Strong characters and lyrical writing make this story compelling for young adults…”
~Christina Fairman, VOYA, starred review
“I couldn’t put it down. Your heart will be racing, and you’ll be aching for more. An addictive gem.”
~Meg Cabot, author of The Princess Diaries and Airhead series
“Beautifully written, lush, exotic, and romantic, with a gutsy heroine who defies convention to fulfill her destiny—SILVER PHOENIX has it all!”
~Alyson Noel, New York Times Bestselling author of EVERMORE
Ai Ling wants to be a dutiful daughter, but surely marrying the vile widower Master Huang is a bad idea. If Ai Ling finds her missing father, then won’t she and her mother be freed from blackmail and manipulation? Ai Ling sets off across the kingdom of Xia to find her vanished father, but finds herself embroiled in both Imperial and mystical intrigue. Her quest is aided by her new friends, the exotically handsome half-Xian Chen Yong and his flirtatious foster brother, Li Rong, both seeking Chen Yong’s birthparents. Together, they rescue gods, fight zombies and travel to dangerous lands where three-eyed men ride flying chariots. Luckily, Ai Ling has newfound powers that aid in their fight against the forces threatening both the trio and the entire land of Xia. Ai Ling is a well-developed protagonist, from her shyness to her great love of food (leading to plentiful mouthwatering descriptions of meals). This fantasy heroine, who shows her spunk with quiet self-determination instead of swordfights, headlines an appealing magical adventure set in a refreshingly non-Western milieu. (Fantasy. 12-14)
Where do I start with all the things I love about Cindy Pon’s debut fantasy SILVER PHOENIX? Finally, a novel based on Chinese legends and myth rather than the same, tired rehash of Celtic and other western European folklore. I relished Ms. Pon’s vividly rendered portraits of both Ai Ling’s normal and paranormal “worlds,” from the quiet tranquility of her family’s home, to the lush splendor of the Golden Palace, or the frightening grotesqueness of The Chief and The Anatomist….This is one of those rare books that has made my “keeper” shelf.
~Cat at teensreadtoo.com
Ai Ling’s adventure is fraught with peril, her relationship with the brothers intriguing and delightful, yet a part of me wanted to linger over the ravishing descriptions. And not only the historic details, the way Pon works to make the magic integral.
Ai Ling can hear others’ thoughts, and get inside their heads. She does this to Li Rong, Chen Yong’s younger brother, at one point: . . . Yet a power and vigor still dwelled in his limbs, an energy that could be summoned in a heartbeat. His hearing was sharper than hers, and Ai Ling heard the rustling of leaves far above, along with the quiet chirping of bugs which she had not noticed with her own ears.
As Ai Ling’s power grows, so too does the cost, and also her understanding. She has a quest not of her making, and yet it is hers, or becomes hers; she is a part of the spirit world as well as the real world. She’s a young girl, with a young girl’s intensity of feeling, and fears, and questions about how the world works even without fantastical creatures such as dragons drifting in and out of her life–and trees that fruit with living human hearts.
This is an amazing book, and even more amazing that it’s a first book. I believe there is to be a second one; I sure hope so. I want to read more about Ai Ling and Chen Yong.
~Sherwood Smith, author of CROWN DUEL / COURT DUEL and the INDA series
“Ai Ling and Chen Yong” art © 2010 Phoenix Lu.