Fury of the Phoenix by Cindy Pon 2011 (ARC) Greenwillow Books/HarperCollins
Incredible Quote "I would fast for you, Li Chen Yong." Ai Ling pg. 310
*No spoilers for Silver Phoenix (well 1 tiny spoiler about relationships and a big one about a death) or Fury of the Phoenix are in this review*
Oh my goodness if you've read Silver Phoenix (and if not WHAT ARE YOU WAITING FOR, GO!) then you understand the significance and awww factor that line has. And I rarely aw, especially not out loud, but that line made my heart melt a bit. But things aren't purely sweet for Ai Ling and Chen Yong. Chen Yong has decided to go search for his birth father, to do so he will need to set sail from Xia, heading for Jiang Dao. Ai Ling has a dream that Chen Yong will be in danger on the voyage so she decides to follow him by sneaking on board. Hopefully she won't be discovered until after the ship sets sail and hopefully she will be able to save Chen Yong. But it's Ai Ling who may end up needing to be saved as well.... There's less action in this book but still plenty of excitement leaping off the pages! Everything is described in meticulous detail from the food, clothes, Jiang Dao, the ship, and of course, the mythical creatures that terrorize Ai Ling and Chen Yong.
While I was both delighted and disturbed by the new creatures and fantasy elements we were introduced to (the Sea Shifters, learning more about reincarnation, etc) I was even more pleased by the character development. You all remember Zhong Ye, the villain from Silver Phoenix right? He was evil, eviillllll! Well not quite. I didn't think Cindy Pon could make me care about him, but to my complete astonishment (and I'm not exaggerating) Zhong Ye's story tugged at my heartstrings. While he starts off ambitious, he wasn't always power mad and there's a lot of talk about the sacrifices made by an eunuch. In a way the process of being an eunuch is like genital mutilation and rarely does anyone voluntarily go through that. So to think that Zhong Ye willing gave up such a delicate body part. *winces* I still don't like him but I understand how he was driven to do what he did in the previous book.
And for those who like some romance with their fantasy, be prepared because there is a A LOT of sexual tension and it's intense, smoldering. I was equally annoyed, happy, or heartbroken because of Ai Ling and Chen Yong not being able to pull themselves together. Everyone else can see that they need each other, they complement each other perfectly. Why can't they??? There's lots of teasing, stolen glances, misunderstanding and awkward moments (awkward for the characters, not the reader ;) There is also the romance between Zhong Ye and Silver Phoenix and it actually borders on sweet, again, the author makes you start to care about Zhong Ye. There are a few new characters introduced in this book and they move the plot along, adding significant intrigue. *SPOILER: highlight to read* Not that I ever seriously though Chen Yong would marry Ah Na, but I did wonder if he would want to stay in Jiang Dao.*End of Spoiler* The afterlife is explored and I don't want to give much away but it's absolutely spellbinding and I wanted to stay in that afterworld for a little longer, to learn more about how it works (the Mirror of Retribution!)
Fury of the Phoenix is a seducing, irresistible tale. I loved this book even more than the first. The worldbuilding is just as wonderful as in the first, but we also get to see further character development and while in the first book I wanted more character interaction I felt thoroughly satisfied in this sequel. At first I was sad to leave the action-packed world of Xia behind, but it was a nice change of pace to slow down and really observe (and smile knowingly) at Ai Ling and Chen Yong's relationship. Life in Jiang Dao seemed slower in general and while Xia reminds me a bit of China (says the girl whose never been), Jiang Dao reminded me more of a Western European country (loosely based of course). The ending was satisfactory, although I did think that a certain relationship was a bit too perfect (not between Ai Ling and Chen Yong but another significant relationship). A discerning attention to detail, smooth transitions from present to past, fabulous wordbuilding and great, fully-realized characters.
And guess what? Cindy Pon is coming to Chicago on May 10th so I can get Fury of the Phoenix signed! YES
PS while I didn't know what the Chinese characters meant, I thought they were a lovely touch. Such a talented and well rounded author is Ms. Pon ;D