By Cindy Pon
Publication date: April 2009
My rating: *****
After her betrothal is broken, Ai Ling is left in disgrace as an unwanted girl. Although she didn't want to marry the unpleasant boy who rejected her, she didn't want to bring dishonor to her family. When her father doesn't return from a trip to the Imperial Palace, Ai Ling bravely sets out to find him and bring him home. But there is a malicious evil at work to prevent her. With the help of a new friend, Chen Yong, Ai Ling must confront this evil and hope that her own powers are strong enough to save those she loves.
An only child, Ai Ling has had an unusual upbringing for a girl. She is well educated and she loves to read. Even though her father warned her about reading it, she has always been drawn to The Book of the Dead, with its stories of frightening creatures. It is only on her journey that Ai Ling realizes just why her father didn't want her to read this particular book as the horrible creatures she believed to be fictional keep crossing her path.
Silver Phoenix is a magical tale set in Xia, an imaginary land similar to ancient China with a mythology all its own.The mythical stories that Ai Ling and Chen Yong reference throughout Silver Phoenix add to the tone of the novel and Cindy Pon's worldbuilding for Xia. The description of Xia is interesting and well drawn but for me it was the suspense surrounding Ai Ling's quest and Chen Yong's mysterious past that kept me turning the pages. I also loved Ai Ling and Chen Yong. Ai Ling is a strong female character in some ways reminiscent of Mulan. She also reminded me a little bit of Opal Cowan (from Maria Snyder's Glass series) who has magical talent and struggles to understand her ability and the proper ways to use it. Ai Ling experiences this struggle throughout the book. Her flaws and doubts only add to the richness of her character. Chen Yong makes a great hero in this novel as he both rescues Ai Ling at times and also follows her lead (she comes to his rescue quite a few times too). He isn't perfect but he is a great supporting character and romantic interest for Ai Ling.
The one thing about Silver Phoenix that disappointed me was the lack of "screen time" for the main villains. I really wish that the reader had more time getting to know or understand Ai Ling's enemies. Once we finally do get to meet them though, they live up to the anticipation. I loved Silver Phoenix and I really look forward to reading more about Xia and Ai Ling in the sequel. Ai Ling is a favorite new character and Silver Phoenix is one of my favorite books I've read so far this year. I would recommend this book to fans of Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman as well as those who enjoy magical fantasy in general.