This debut novel from Cindy Pon has received a lot of buzz from a surprisingly diverse set of authors. I first heard about the book from Sherwood Smith, author of the Inda high fantasy series and then again from Meg Cabot, best known for The Princess Diaries. These women, whom I admire, both praised Pon for creating a wonderful new fantasy adventure that accurately Eastern myths and fairy tales instead of Western ones.
Silver Phoenix is the tale of Ai Ling a young woman who lives in a small town in the Kingdom of Xia. Her father is a scholar who once advised the Emperor before being exiled in disgrace. Ai Ling’s mother was an orphan. Due to unusual circumstances her parents were able to marry for love in a society where marriages are usually arranged, often at a very young age. Raised in such a household our seventeen year old heroine is leery about entering an arranged marriage. She flees her household when an unscrupulous fellow tries to force her to become his fourth wife while her father is away on business.
It is once Ai Ling’s adventures on the road begin that Pon’s tale becomes more fantastic. Demons, monsters and other mythic creatures out of Chinese lore begin to appear as Ai Ling herself becomes aware that she has a special talent of her own. Allies and traveling companions enter the scene and Ai Ling’s search for her father rapidly escalates into an epic quest to save her realm.
While there are times when the narrative seems a bit disjointed or things too convenient Silver Phoenix remains a fantastic debut novel. Cindy Pon paints a lush environment full of sights, smells, tastes and feelings. The descriptions of the food alone made my mouth water, and I always appreciate it when the characters on epic quests get tired, dirty and hungry. Colors are vividly described in terms of jade, celadon, cinnabar and ivory: terms that are more uncommon in the west and help root the tale even more so in it’s Eastern heritage. I enjoyed this glimpse into another culture and think this book would appeal to fans of anime series such as Inu Yasha as well as to any reader who loves a good coming of age tale in a fantasy setting.