I must confess: I *loved* Cindy Pon's 2009 debut YA novel SILVER PHOENIX. So when she graciously offered a review copy of the sequel, FURY OF THE PHOENIX, I (literally) started bouncing up and down with glee.
As with the first novel, the heroine, Ai Ling, is again embarking on a treacherous journey. Whereas she was previously fleeing an unwanted engagement in search of her missing father, this time Ai Ling is on a mission of protection. She has been warned in a dream that the young man she loves, Chen Yong, will not survive the trip to his father's homeland without her.
Although she manages sneak aboard the Gliding Dragon after its departure, she is quickly discovered by the ship's captain and presented to Chen Yong after claiming to be his sister. Though Chen Yong confirms Ai Ling's story, he's clearly not happy to see her - and soon informs Ai Ling of his betrothal to another girl. Despite the pain of this heartbreak, Ai Ling is determined to keep Chen Yong safe.
Interspersed with the narrative of Ai Ling and Chen Yong's voyage is the story of a young eunuch in the Emperor's palace. As we follow two star-crossed lovers across the ocean, we also follow this character's rise to a position of unmatched power as he transforms from an ambitious, cunning, flawed, but loving individual into the terrifying monster Ai Ling faced in SILVER PHOENIX: Zhong Ye.
I had no idea how much I missed Ai Ling, her story, and the sumptuous beauty of Cindy Pon's writing until I picked up FURY OF THE PHOENIX. Ms. Pon takes us into completely unexplored territory, both literally (with Ai Ling leaving Xia to explore Jiang) and figuratively (as we mine the history and circumstances that shaped Zhong Ye's villainy).
FURY OF THE PHOENIX is a perfect example of a sequel at its best: diving further beneath the surface of characters we love, an expansion and enrichment of the established world, and a brand new, engrossing story, satisfying not just in and of itself, but also one that enhances the series as a whole. Ms. Pon didn't just match my hopes with FURY OF THE PHOENIX, she exceeded far beyond anything I ever could have imagined.
This one's headed right for the keeper shelf, just like its predecessor.
*Gold Star Award Winner!show more