Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon – Advance Review

Book Jacket:

The Gods have abandoned Ai Ling.

Her mysterious power haunts her day and night, and she leaves home—with just the moon as her guide—overwhelmed by her memories and visions and an unbearable sense of dread. For Ai Ling knows that Chen Yong is vulnerable to corrupt enchantments from the under-world. How can she do nothing when she has the skill and power to fight at his side? A dream has told her where he is, the name of the ship he is traveling on, his destination. So she steals off and stows away on board.

The ocean voyage brings with it brutal danger, haunting revelations, and new friendships, but also the premonition of a very real and terrifying threat. Zhong Ye—the powerful sorcerer whom Ai Ling believed she had vanquished in the Palace of Fragrant Dreams—is trapped in Hell, neither alive nor dead. Can he reach from beyond the grave to reunite with Silver Phoenix and destroy Chen Yong? And destroy whatever chance Ai Ling has at happiness, at love?

In this sequel to the acclaimed novel Silver Phoenix, four lives are woven together and four destinies become one, now and forever.

You can read an excerpt here.


Cindy Pon’s second Kingdom of Xia novel is even better than her first.

I enjoyed Pon’s first book, Silver Phoenix – a fantasy romp through ancient China – but I found it to be somewhat scattered at times. With a narrative inspired by Chinese mythology (in which monsters often fall from the sky and people are randomly transported to magical realms), the non-causative nature of Silver Phoenix was in many ways just the inherent nature of the storytelling paradigm, but at the same time it did keep the story from entirely coming together for me. Still, there was plenty to enjoy, with a feisty leading lady and superb world building – I defy anyone to read the mouth watering descriptions of Chinese food in Silver Phoenix and not develop an intense craving for Chinese cuisine.

At the heart of Silver Phoenix was Ai Ling’s quest to defeat the somewhat typically Evil Lord, Zhong Ye – a broad villain, Zhong Ye was built firmly along the lines of the classic Evil Vizier trope (the magician behind the throne, pulling the strings). Given Zhong Ye’s resounding defeat at the end of the first book, I was surprised to find he would again feature so prominently in Fury of the Phoenix, and honestly it gave me pause. I wasn’t wild about him in the first book, and now faced with a second book where half the narrative would be told from his point of view, I was dubious. I wasn’t sure I cared to know more – but Cindy Pon quickly blew my doubts away. Fury of the Phoenix is that rare book that delves into backstory and makes it vital. Pon utterly humanizes Zhong Yi, revealing the man behind the villain, and as we witness his rise to power and budding relationship with Silver Phoenix, Pon even makes us care about him, imbuing his coming fall from grace with a wonderful poignancy. It was fantastic storytelling.

As much as this book delves into Zhong Ye’s past, it also very much tells the story of Ai Ling’s present, as she travels with Chen Yong on his journey to find his father. There are plenty of new sights and dangerous encounters, but there is also a wonderful sense of Zhong Ye’s pervading taint. Ai Ling is shadowed both literally and figuratively by the events of the first book, and there is a lovely sense of menace as Ai Ling realizes Zhong Ye isn’t done with her yet. Experiencing memories of Zhong Ye’s life, while struggling to contain powers rapidly spinning out of control, Ai Ling’s journey is as much an emotional as a physical one, only further complicated by her confusion regarding Chen Yong’s feelings towards her and her guilt about the secret she’s keeping from him. It makes for a lovely tangle of emotion.

Chen Yong’s arc is perhaps the weakest of the book, as his discovery of his father and their rapidly developing relationship come about rather easily. It was nice to have something go right in the story, but altogether it felt like his arc was more an excuse to travel to a distant land than a story worthy in its own right. I also couldn’t help but feel that Chen Yong was more The Love Interest than anything else in this story, but I still very much enjoyed how Pon created obstacles to come between Chen Yong and Ai Ling, and their continuing struggles to understand each other.

I also very much liked how Fury of the Phoenix leaned away from the storytelling paradigms of Chinese myths and legends, which resulted in a much cleaner narrative. Maybe it was just my western brain appreciating a more tangible, linear narrative, but I do believe this book is a tighter than the first. It makes for highly satisfying reading.

However, Fury of the Phoenix does proudly carry on one tradition of the first book, in that it makes you absolutely crave Asian cuisine like there is no tomorrow – and can I just say how absolutely delightful it is to see a female character who is so unabashedly fond of eating. Thank you, Cindy Pon.

And so Fury of the Phoenix delves equally into Zhong Ye’s past and Ai Ling’s present, eventually merging the two stories in one last mythological showdown. I just loved how Pon incorporated Silver Phoenix into Zhong Ye’s fate, and how Pon brought such poignancy to their doomed – and in being doomed, quintessentially Chinese (and now I need to go watch Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon again) – love story. But never fear, not all love in this book is doomed! The ending is indeed a happy one.

Fury of the Phoenix is a compelling fantasy story, and a welcome return to Pon’s wonderful fantasy world. Pon takes the events of Silver Phoenix and opens them up, deepening her characters, and expanding her mythology in fascinating ways. This is simply a lovely book.

Byrt Grade: A-

As Levar Burton used to say – you don’t have to take my word for it…

Ellen Oh on Goodreads says:

I’ve always known Cindy is a wonderful story teller and writer, but in Fury, Cindy has blown me away. It is an incredibly powerful, moving and exciting story. I absolutely loved it and I believe that anyone who reads it will see exactly what I’m talking about. She did something really hard to do, take an evil character and nuance him so that we actually come to care for him.

Kid Lit Frenzy says:

The story shifts between Ai Ling’s perspective and time to Zhong Ye’s perspective from when he was a young Eunuch in the Emperor’s Court.  Initially, I wondered about this choice. Yet, I was soon wrapped up in Zhong Ye’s early life and his relationship with Silver Phoenix and what led him to become the sorcerer that we came to see him as in Silver Phoenix. Second, the action is significantly different in this story. As the journey unfolded, I found myself loving the back history that is revealed and how the past and present provide a mystery and love story that sucks the reader in. It was at this point where I had to literally make a mental shift. Pon wasn’t being predictable and safe.  She had deftly added an additional layer to the story that I really found intriguing.