Serpentine by Cindy Pon. Serpentine, #1.
My copy: Month9Books, September 2015. Hardcover, 274 pages.
Inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology, this sweeping fantasy is set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns 16, Skybright notices troubling changes. By day, she is a companion and handmaid to the youngest daughter of a very wealthy family. But nighttime brings with it a darkness that not even daybreak can quell. When her plight can no longer be denied, Skybright learns that despite a dark destiny, she must struggle to retain her sense of self – even as she falls in love for the first time.
Friendship. Skybright, the heroine of the story, is best friends, practically sisters, with Zhen Ni, who she helps as a handmaiden. The girls share an incredibly strong bond, having grown up together. It’s a friendship full of love in a totally platonic way. They’re just two girls who would fight the world and the underworld for each other. They do have their bumps and rough patches, especially when another girl comes into the picture, but I loved how much they genuinely cared about each other, and how they valued each other’s opinions. The only thing I didn’t like was the fact that Skybright didn’t feel secure enough to trust Zhen Ni with her big secret. I really believe Zhen Ni would have stood by Skybright’s side through all of her confusion regarding her serpent form, and I couldn’t believe that Skybright never confided in Zhen Ni.
Kai Sen. What got me on board the ship? The fact that monk-in-training Kai Sen liked and respected Skybright for who she was, serpent and all. He talked to Skybright and tried to understand her, he helped her and helped Zhen Ni for her. Plus, he fought demons like a boss and could outrun Skybright even in her powerful serpent form. Boy’s pretty fit. Where can I find myself a hunky guy like him?
Scars and birthmarks. Skybright gets a scar. Kai Sen has a birthmark. Why oH WHY did their markings have to magically disappear for reasons I won’t spoil? Why couldn’t they continue to live and be badass with these (beautiful) marks on their faces? Authors — stop doing this to characters with unique aspects about them. Why can’t a girl with a scar save her friends? Why can’t a guy with a birthmark save his friends? Real people don’t have perfect looks and their problems aren’t solved because someone magicked their “flaws” away.
Xia. Serpentine is set in the Kingdom of Xia, which is a fantasy world based on ancient China. I pretty much like any story set in Asia or a place based on Asia — as long as the world has proper fleshing-out and some character/atmosphere. Luckily, Xia is a great backdrop to this story about demons and magic. Xia is also the world Cindy Pon’s first series, Silver Phoenix, was set in. It’s cool that she’s still writing about more heroines within the same world.
Plot and predictability. I wasn’t expecting demons from the underworld to crop up, but once I recognized the direction the story was heading, I tucked in. I could predict many plot points, but that didn’t make me enjoy it any less. However, it was frustrating to see Skybright follow the typical “heroine who doesn’t trust her friends” trope. Girl — just talk it out and accept the help of your peeps. Don’t shoulder the burden yourself, just because you don’t want to “hurt” anybody.
Verdict. I really enjoyed Serpentine. Skybright is a frustrating character at times, and the story ends SUPER abruptly (*cough* obvious sequel *cough*), but I flew through this book. Cindy Pon has proven to me to be consistently solid in her writing, and I can’t wait to read the sequel, Sacrifice. ♦
Have you read Serpentine?
If you haven’t, would you be interested to?
What’s a book infused with Chinese mythology/folklore you’ve read?
Comment below letting me know!