Thursday, June 26, 2014

Review: Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon

Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon
Series: Kingdom of Xia #1
Published by Greenwillow Books
Pages: 338
Genre: Fantasy (YA)
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Ai Ling can see into other people's minds and reach into their spirits. But she doesn't know why this power has awakened inside her. She only knows that it is growing. It leads her on an epic journey—one that brings her to the edge of the deepest evil.

Chen Yong has a quest of his own, but then his path crosses Ai Ling's. And there's a connection so strong that neither can ignore it.

Now they must face terrifying demons determined to kill them, and battle through treacherous lands. It is their destiny. But can destiny keep them together?
(goodreads synopsis)

This review will contain some light spoilers. I've tried to keep them as vague as possible, but there is a spoiler

No, he shouldn't be dead. Not when someone like Zhong Ye lived. She would bring him back - even if she needed to use the dark arts to do it. He had dies because of her. She would do anything.

Honestly, it's sad how much potential this book start out with - only to squander it before the end.

I liked the idea behind the story and was curious about the world - after all, I don't often come across Asian influenced fantasy worlds. That was great.


The world never felt fully explored nor explained. If something was brought up, it was almost universally assumed that the reader would know what was being talked about. There was mention of The Book of the Dead - well, there were several things that made me thing it was simply a record of deaths. But then, there was also talk about it not being safe to read - and other allusions to it being a type of demon resurrection manual. So which it actually was, I'll probably never know.

This is mostly a book about one long journey - something I've never enjoyed much - and we are told every minute detail about Ai Ling's life. She wakes with a start most mornings, eats and then begins her journey. She travels a long time, hungry and her feet hurting. Then she finds a place to eat. Gets attacked by the evil demonic minions out for her blood. She walks some more then stops, eats and falls asleep. I cannot even begin to guess how many chapters ends with her falling asleep and how many chapters begin with her waking up. It's surprising that while all that is written, she never has to find a convenient bush.

Worse, for me, is how the journey doesn't stay in the moral realm. Ai Ling travels to the god/goddesses world and treks across it for awhile. I've never liked that much. Sure, I've read other fantasy books that do that and have enjoyed them - but that's mostly because I already knew and liked the author/s and/or liked the characters enough to over look that. This book had neither.

Let's talk about the main character: Ai Ling. I wanted to like her. She starts off gutsy and determined. She's lived a sheltered life - as most women in her country have - so I was willing to forgive her childishness, self-doubt, stupidity and inappropriate stubbornness. But then, someone close to her dies.

Sad. Terrible. Tragic.

There is mourning. The death was meaningless. Pointless. Ai Ling blames herself.

So, what does she do?

She decides to resurrect the character. So, she rips his heart out of his chest and crystallizes it - or something - to keep it because she only has one month after his death to restore them. And, as she says, she'll do it. Even if she has to use dark magic to do it.

What? Why you stupid, selfish girl. Why don't you think things through. I hate this type of plot device. It's a cheap death if it works and if it doesn't - well that's original. Stupid, selfish girl just made things worse.

Honestly, I wish that had cropped up in the first hundred or so pages because, if it had, I would have quit reading. As it was, I had to continue - partially because I was reading this for a challenge that I didn't have an alternate book for. Otherwise I would have stopped right then and there.

Then I do have to make special mention of Ai Ling's special ability. She can enter people's mind and read their thoughts. Okay... I rather agreed with the person that said it's like 'spiritual rape'. Then she discovers that she can control the person, read all their thoughts and have all the memories that they have and make them do anything she wants. Now that's just plain creepy to me. And, even though she agrees that it is 'spiritual rape' she keeps doing it!

There is also an odd distance between the reader and the narrator. Everything is told in Ai Ling's third person limited point of view. Usually that would work well for me - but Ai Ling seems detached from everything. It's like she'll describe to you everything that's going on, but never what she thinks or feels about it.

All in all, this was a book that I wanted to like, but it just fell incredibly short for me.