The Writer's View - Silver Pheonix by Cindy Pon
From Goodreads: No one wanted Ai Ling. And deep down she is relieved—despite the dishonor she has brought upon her family—to be unbetrothed and free, not some stranger's subservient bride banished to the inner quarters.
But now, something is after her. Something terrifying—a force she cannot comprehend. And as pieces of the puzzle start to fit together, Ai Ling begins to understand that her journey to the Palace of Fragrant Dreams isn't only a quest to find her beloved father but a venture with stakes larger than she could have imagined.
Bravery, intelligence, the will to fight and fight hard . . . she will need all of these things. Just as she will need the new and mysterious power growing within her. She will also need help.
It is Chen Yong who finds her partly submerged and barely breathing at the edge of a deep lake. There is something of unspeakable evil trying to drag her under. On a quest of his own, Chen Yong offers that help . . . and perhaps more
The Writer's View
I want to thank the author, Cindy Pon, for writing this book! It's the sort of book I wish I'd had as a teen -- A YA fantasy adventure set in an Asian-inspired setting with strong, loveable Asian characters. The setting, particularly the demons, has a strong root in Asian myth and legend. It was such a relief to find something completely "Eastern" in teen genre fiction. I wish there were more books out there like this!
Worldbuilding with food
Pon's setting has so many equisite Eastern details, but the one that really struck me was her details of the food. (It helps that the heorine, Ai Ling, has a very healthy appetite as is pre-occupied by food on a regular basis.) Here are some examples of the food in this book: Deep-fried aquash coated in rice-paste batter. Rice porriage simmered with sweet yams. Braised meatballs. Sticky rice balls with sweetened taro. Rice Porriage with picked vegetables and salted pork.
Isn't all this detail great? It never occurred to me to beef up my worldbuilding with food. (No pun intended!) I just love how much dimensions these culinary details added to Pon's world. I'm definitely going to have to try this out in one of my books.
Deux ex Machina
For those of you not familiar with deux ex machina as a literary device, here's the definition from Wikipedia: [Deux ex machina] is a plot device whereby a seemingly unsolvable problem is suddenly and abruptly solved with the contrived and unexpected intervention of some new event, character, ability, or object. It can be roughly translated as "God made it happen," with no further explanation, and, depending on usage, is primarily used to move the story forward when the writer has "painted himself into a corner" and sees no other way out. However, in other cases, it is used to surprise the audience, or, commonly influenced by editors and/or publishers, bring a happy ending into the tale.
The italics above are mine. You can read the full article here if you're interested in learning more, but I think you get the basic gist of what deux ex machina is from the explanation above.
To be honest, I am not a fan of deux ex machina in stories. I am pre-disposed to dislike this when I find it in stories. I just want to let you know this bias upfront, because it may not bother some readers, but for me personally it really affected my enjoyment of this novel.
And as much as I enjoyed Silver Phoenix, I was disappointed when a dragon miraculously appeared and took Ai Ling to visit a goddess. This goddess neatly explained 1) all the supernatural occurences Ai Ling had been experiencing, 2) revealed who the bad guy was, 3) explained why the bad guy was after Ai Ling, and 4) explained what Ai Ling had to do to save her father and defeat the bad guy.
Despite this gripe, I did enjoy this story. I highly recommend it anyone looking to escape conventional "Western" fantasy elements.