Thursday, March 11, 2010

Three Viewpoint Thursday: The Silver Phoenix

Welcome to Three Viewpoint Thursday, where three of us at YA Lit Review sit down and chat about one book. This week’s discussion - Silver Phoenix: Beyond the Kingdom of Xia by Cindy Pon.

No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters. But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined. Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help. It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help . . . and perhaps more. (from GoodReads)

Aly: So we are here to discuss Silver Phoenix by Cindy Pon. This was her debut piece in 2009. Let me just ask...what were everyone's initial impressions of the book?

Vi: The first part was a little slow for me, then the middle really picked up and was exciting, but the end fell flat because I didn't feel like I got the closure I needed. I swear I looked on the next page because I thought for sure I was missing something.

Renee: I thought that the pace was really good throughout, and thoroughly enjoyed the book, but I agree that the ending left me wanting something... I think I read somewhere that there may be a sequel, so perhaps that is why….

Aly: I really liked the book right from the beginning. I thought I might need to read/scan initially because lately books have dragged in the beginning but not with this one. I also thought the pace worked but I wanted a slightly happier ending. I can see this being a stand-alone but also can see this being turned into a series.

Vi: I'd like for it to continue, mostly because the ending didn't hold the closure I was looking for. Maybe it was because I'd gotten so wrapped up in the story and the pacing was intense for so long that I kept expecting a different ending. Not that I think it would've made sense for the Ai Ling to get engaged or anything right there, but... it just wasn't enough. So I hope it'll be a series. Or at least have a sequel.

Aly: Let's talk a little about the characters. Ai Ling and Chen Yong and Li Rong and the others. Did you feel you connected with the characters? Did you feel they were likable and "real"? Did you have favorites? Ones you loved to hate? Ones you wished weren't there? Go for it.

Renee: I really loved the brotherly pair of Li Rong and Chen Yong. Chen Yong had a kindness to his stoicism that I really liked, while Li Rong's playfulness and flirtatious attitude was really refreshing for their "serious" journey. When they interacted, I really loved them together.

Vi: I really love Li Rong. He's probably my favorite out of all of them, and I wish that I could've gotten to see more of him. Chen Yong was a little too stoic for my taste, but he definitely felt like a real person with real reactions to events in the story. I like that *all* of the characters had depth to them. Ai Ling is a great heroine and a good example of a strong female lead.

Aly: I really thought that there was a good blend of characters. And I do feel that the lead female character was strong and smart and though at times acted rashly I didn't feel like "OMG" I can't believe she is doing that which is refreshing. I did like Chen Yong and also felt that Li Rong balanced him out well. I am trying to stay away from spoilers...but anyway, the three together were very good. I also liked the journey that they were on and various other characters that were introduced. I have to say it was also nice to have parents in the story even if they weren't there all the time but there were referred to and respected in many ways.

Vi: I agree about the parents. It was really nice to have several good adult role models, and I especially liked Master Tan. I liked that he admitted he made a mistake and did what he could to rectify the situation.

Renee: I was actually going to mention Master Tan earlier... he seemed very kind, and to stay away from spoilers, I really liked how he reacted to the aftermath of the "issue" at his home and went out of his way to be generous. It seemed believable.

Aly: Just to keep this moving. I was wondering what people thought about the setting. So much of today's YA fantasy stuff takes place in urban settings or high fantasy seems to take place in what I call some interesting version of the British Isle. So China...several centuries ago...more Asian mythology, etc. How was that?

Vi: I loved, loved, loved the setting. I had a hard time with some of the names and stuff, but I could feel the richness and tradition in every page. The world is vivid. I loved the... I guess mythology of the world. Asian influence isn't seen quite as much in YA fantasy these days and I think it's probably because it's not easy to write in a way that feels believable. That wasn't the case for me with this book.
Renee: I personally LOVE Asian mythology, so I really enjoyed the period setting. It was a "rich" world as you said, and it had an element of the mystical that could appeal to audiences who are not quite ready to read supernatural/paranormal fiction that is so prevalent in YA today.

Aly: I also loved the setting and after getting use to the names and some of the other things I settled in and really just enjoyed the world that Pon created. It was vivid and real as Vi mentioned. It just was a nice change from so many other books. Also a nice change from the vampires, werewolves and faeries in many other stories that are out there. Yet the mystical and paranormal are fully there for those who like that kind of thing. Any questions or thoughts that people want to bring up?

Vi: What did everyone think about the "final battle" between Ai Ling and her nemesis? (trying not to put in spoilers! ^_^)

Renee: I liked that it began "before" meeting the villain and that even at the end, there were so many steps and obstacles to get to him... It really made the journey of the whole novel feel bigger that there were so many "foes" for her defeat.

Aly: I also liked that Ai Ling had to learn about her abilities as she went and that the adventure/journey allowed her to learn more of what she was capable of as she traveled which built her confidence for the final battle so to speak.

Aly: Oh I finally remembered what I wanted to ask...if you have more thoughts on the final part share away but I wanted to see if you felt this was really YA or more of "new adult" in the story? Just curious.

Vi: First, in regards to the final between Ai Ling and her nemesis, I liked that it had a feeling of history (and that it touched on reincarnation) and I liked that she used the major skill she learned in order to defeat him.

Vi: I do think this is still YA. I mean, I find the new "new adult" idea a little strange anyway, but this, to me, is a classic coming-of-age adventure story for teens. *and* it is fit for kids younger than fourteen, in my opinion, so I wouldn't classify it as "new adult."

Aly: Pass...sorry Renee what are your thoughts first…

Renee: Well, I think that it is still YA (but one that can be enjoyed by people of all ages). There were typical YA elements like being entrusted with a quest and meeting people of higher positions (in this case, from other worlds and old legends sometimes), very similar to other young adult coming of age stories.

Aly: Hmmm...I guess I was wondering about the scene at the Tan's household on the first night (which I thought was well written) or even the scene at the confrontation (which again I thought was well done). I don't censor books for teens, but I know I have to be cautious because of my position when recommending certain books to 11 or 12 year olds who are reading YA. It is always a dilemma for me.

Vi: I definitely understand about that. I think that I'd still classify it as YA. That particular scene, I think, was handled pretty well. The book might not work for all younger readers, but more of them, these days, are more mature and are reading books for adults. I know that's probably not the best way to judge, but I kind of have to think back about what *I* was reading at 12, too.

Renee: Agreed. It referenced some older material without being graphic, so I think maturity might be an issue, but content-wise the words on the page would not be necessarily inappropriate for younger readers.

Aly: I know that when I was 12 I was reading adult literature but I still try to be careful what I recommend to students because of my position. However, outside of school I would definitely just be recommending it.

Vi: I like the way all of the "mature" content is handled in the book, but I understand that teachers may need to read it first before handing it out or recommending it to even teenagers. Compared to "new adult" books I've read, though, this is very tame.

Aly: Are there final thoughts or points that we haven't talked about that we should?

Vi: None from me. Just that I REALLY hope there's a sequel! And I'll be looking for more from Cindy Pon even if it's not about Ai Ling.

Renee: I agree. I'm looking forward to a sequel, since I really enjoyed this story and the different worlds and legends from the history books in the story.

Aly: I think it is unanimous that everyone would like to see a sequel or at least more from Cindy Pon. I thought it was a great debut novel and really well done especially from that perspective.

It was a fun chat and we look forward to continuing with this! If you'd like to participate, please send an email to us at for more information.

Until next time...

Note: I am happy to report that there will be a sequel coming in the fall of 2010. Really can't wait.

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