book review: Silver Phoenix
author: Cindy Pon
date: Greenwillow Books, 2009
main character: Ai Ling
Silver Phoenix is the hero’s journey of Ai Ling. The story begins with Ai Ling about to enter a traditional betrothal until she is rejected by the young man’s family. What is really unusual about this gathering, however is that as Ai Ling’s prospective mother in-law places her hand on Ai Ling’s arm, the young girl realizes that she hears other’s thoughts. This is the first of her many abilities that Ai Ling discovers in the course of the book. A short time later, Ai Ling’s father is called away and he stays away much longer than expected. Ai Ling, an only child, takes it upon herself to go look for her father.
Pon is quite aware of the constrictions that were placed upon young girls in ancient Chinese. She skillfully presents them and manages to give her character the tools to work around cultural expectations. Pon gives us a story of a young woman’s strength’s more than the story of a society’s weaknesses.
Chen Yong and his brother, Li Rong, accompanied Ai Ling on much of her journey. Chen Yong made a timely appearance when it looked like we were about to lose our young heroine. He said he was called to join her. We don’t get an explanation for the calling (not in this book!) but we do see a rather complex relationship develop between the two. Oh, yes there are feelings! But more than that, Chen Yong realizes there is only so much he can do to help Ai Ling on this journey. He manages to be there in a way that leads neither of them to compromise who or what they are. I liked it when Ai Ling’s father asked Chen Yong to take care of his daughter. The young man replies “I will stay with her.” He knows that he can’t ‘take care’ of her!
I never questioned the rationale for incidents that occurred in Silver Phoenix, although they were often quite mystical in nature. Pon has written a very cohesive and empowering story.
The sequel, Fury of the Phoenix was released in 2011.