Pon, Cindy. Silver Phoenix. 338 p. Greenwillow. 2009. Paperback $8.99. ISBN 9780061730245.
Pon, Cindy. Fury of the Phoenix. 362 p. Greenwillow. 2011. Hardcover $17.99. ISBN 9780061730252.
The Kingdom of Xia books comprise a captivating duology with a strong-willed heroine who possesses mysterious powers, adventure-filled quests, and a lush fantasy setting inspired by ancient China.
Now, I'd heard that these books would make me crave Chinese food, but that's an understatement. I was basically ready to PITCH A FIT if I didn't get dim sum after I finished reading.
The protagonist, Ai Ling, loves her food, and I just wanted her to keep eating-- all the time! Every time a meal was described, I cheered a little. At one point, a character actually refused a meal, and I was like, “Noooo! What are you DOING? You have to EAT so I can READ about it!”
Seriously. The food descriptions are that tantalizing. Cindy Pon, you are brilliant.
It's not all about food, though. Exquisite worldbuilding provides a lush backdrop for inventive plotting. With a storyline that avoids being formulaic, I couldn't predict exactly where the plot would go, which allowed me to enjoy the journey as it unfolded through Pon's expert pacing. I love books where the characters travel from place to place, and savored each location so beautifully described in Silver Phoenix. Too, characters are well-developed and multi-faceted, each with their own goals and obstacles. Ai Ling is especially relatable, with believable flaws that she strives to overcome.
The sequel, Fury of the Phoenix, continues the story of Ai Ling and her swoon-worthy love interest, Chen Yong, while introducing a fascinating new setting and answering questions that were deliberately left dangling in the first volume. Told via dual narration, this book fills in the backstory of the first book's villain, Zhen Yong. Through reading his perspective, the reader gains surprising empathy for him. You're sort of pulling for the guy, even though you know things aren't going to end well for him. In that way, it's sort of like the Star Wars prequels-- but better! Because, you know, no Jar-Jar Binks.
And- this is important to note- there's still LOTS OF FOOD in Fury. I went into it thinking, “Okay, please please please make with the food...” and was rewarded by the second page. *fistpump*
With its elements of questing, adventure, and romance in a fantasy ancient Chinese setting, fans of Fushigi Yuugi and Avatar: The Last Airbender will love the Kingdom of Xia. I highly recommend these books, and look forward to whatever else Cindy Pon has in store for us in the future.