Friday, April 22, 2011
"Fury of the Phoenix" by Cindy Pon
Lush and full of adventure, Cindy Pon’s Phoenix duo will take you to a world like you’ve never seen. The books have a very Asian flare, full of Chinese roots, yet they take place in Pon’s own world, Xia. If you’re a fan of high fantasy and anything like me, these books will be impossible to put down once you get started. While Silver Phoenix was my favorite of the two, I loved Pon’s latest novel, Fury of the Phoenix, too. I didn’t realize how much I missed Xia and its inhabitants until I re-read Silver Phoenix. It was like coming home and catching up with an old friend, one I’d neglected for far too long. Because I took the time to re-read (which I can’t always do), I had an easier time slipping into the sequel.
What first captured me about Cindy Pon was her way of creating a world that’s very Chinese at its heart, yet in a world of its own. Even better, her descriptions are lush and detailed, painting an image that’s easy to visualize. Best of all is the lore. At first, I truly thought mythical creatures such as Life Seekers and Zhen fish were from traditional Chinese folklore, but in an upcoming interview with Pon, I discovered that all of these beings came from her own imagination. Silver Phoenix is heavier on this aspect, which I think is why I love it best. It has all of the traditional elements epic, sweeping fantasies do and I couldn’t put it down for a moment, even upon my second time reading the book. For those new to the series, Silver Phoenix revolves around a courageous girl named Ai Ling who runs away from home rather than be married off to a horrible old neighbor. She flees for the palace, hoping to save her father, and is soon accompanied by two brothers named Chen Yong and Li Rong. She finds out that the Immortals have set a course for her and if she doesn’t fulfill her destiny, her father—and the entire kingdom—will soon be destroyed.
Fury of the Phoenix is a companion novel that reunites us with Ai Ling and Chen Yong, as well as other characters from the first book. The story is split in two and weaves back and forth between the past and the present. In the present, Ai Ling sneaks onboard a ship and follows Chen Yong to Jiang Dao, a far away country that reminded me of when people traveled to the New World. Along the way, Pon weaves more mystical demons such as Sea Shifters, giving the story a sense of the flavor that made Silver Phoenix so special. In the first book, I really wanted Ai Ling and Chen Yong to wind up together, but it isn’t until Fury of the Phoenix that my wait paid off. There’s so much tension building between our favorite couple; I was constantly on the edge of my seat just hoping that things would work out this time around.
On top of that, Pon merges a second perspective into the novel, one that tells the story of Silver Phoenix and Zhong Ye. At first, I didn’t want to know more about Zhong Ye, but by the novel’s end, I had really come to understand and appreciate why he became so twisted later in life. After reading Silver Phoenix, I never thought I could care for him as a person. Pon’s storytelling is so tight, that while all isn’t forgiven, there’s still room to embrace this flawed man. I also loved learning the back story of Silver Phoenix, which was only hinted at in the first book despite the fact that the novel was named after her. At first, flipping back and forth between the past and present was jarring, but I soon settled in and found myself wanting to read more about the plight of both sets of characters.
Pon is talented when it comes to developing characters and their personalities. I truly cared about everyone and will truly miss these characters now that Ai Ling’s story has come to a conclusion. I feel bereft and can only hope that there will be more books set in the world of Xia, even if they don’t revolve around everyone I’ve come to know and love. If you’re looking for a high fantasy novel full of mystery, intrigue, and romance, check out Pon’s Phoenix duo; you won’t regret it!
I love the hardcover edition of Silver Phoenix. It’s what first made me take notice of the book. I love the bright colors and the beautiful pink kimono Ai Ling is wearing. Her makeup is perfect, and her hair is absolutely gorgeous. On top of all that, the setting sun on the water in the background and hint of a traditional dragon added atmosphere. I could stare at this cover forever. When the book came out in paperback, a new treatment was issued to the cover. While I don’t love it as much as I did the first edition, I’ve come to appreciate it more than I once did. I love the fact that the model still wears Ai Ling’s necklace, an extremely important object in Silver Phoenix. If you look at the cover from a certain angle, the dress could be something Ai Ling would wear as well. Fury of the Phoenix has a darker treatment that matches the paperback edition. This time, Ai Ling is holding a special blessed dagger, which doesn’t hold as great a role in the second book, but still has a part to play. I love that there’s a Chinese character on the dagger; people browsing the shelves can still see that this book has an Asian influence. If they’re looking at the book from the spine, that same character is on its surface after the author’s name and before the title. I also love the fact that the book’s back cover was designed by Chris Borgman, who also did the front cover for the hardback edition of Silver Phoenix. In this sense, the designs are continuous. The back cover consists of gorgeous, wine-colored fabric embroidered with delicate flowers. I only wish the cover model was wearing this splendid outfit.
My favorite part of the book design is actually the interior, which remains consist in both books. Pon is a talented artist as well as an established storyteller. She practices Chinese brush art. In Silver Phoenix, each chapter is accompanied by a character with the Chinese characters that represent it. For example, the characters for 15 look like十五 (for those who can read Asian text on their computers). These characters are paired with the Western spelling of the chapter.
Having lived in Japan and studied Japanese, I recognized these characters and their appearance with each new chapter kept the Asian background firmly in my mind. In Fury of the Phoenix, Pon studied the cycle of a plum blossom and painted a different aspect of it with each new chapter. I looked forward to seeing each image and really enjoyed their inclusion in the novels.
[Come back soon for an interview with the lovely Cindy Pon, part of Fairy Tale Fortnight!]