From School Library Journal
Grade 9 Up—At 17, Ai Ling is past the age when most girls in the kingdom of Xia have married and borne children. The gods, it would seem, have a different destiny in store for her, one that begins to reveal itself when her father travels to the Emperor's Palace and fails to return. Ai Ling is determined to find him and destroy his captor, a corrupt advisor who has unnaturally extended his life by feeding on the souls of others. On her journey, which is rich in action but a little slight on character development, Ai Ling meets Chen Yong, a young man of mixed race who seeks the truth of his birth and faces a variety of predators, both demonic and sexual. Fans of Tamora Pierce's and Robin McKinley's work will enjoy the adventure and strong female protagonist; the Chinese-influenced society and bestiary may also tempt aficionados of Asian culture and media.—Christi Esterle, Parker Library, CO
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*Starred Review* If the cover image of a fearless Chinese heroine reminds readers of such films as Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, that’s intentional; the story inside will, too. First-time novelist Pon has a screenwriter’s talent for producing a sweeping saga, and in this, the first of two books set in ancient China, 17-year-old Ai Ling faces demons, monsters, and gods as she tries to fulfill her destiny. Frightened after a local man tries to blackmail her into marriage, Ai Ling resolves to journey to the emperor’s palace, where her missing father was last seen. Along the way, she meets the handsome Chen Yong, who is of mixed parentage and on a quest to find answers to questions about his family that have haunted him his whole life. (In the story’s prologue, readers get hints about his origins.) As in most martial-arts movies, the story sometimes takes a backseat to the action, but Pon doesn’t stint when it comes to her characters. Ai Ling is a clever and determined heroine, Chen’s younger brother is a witty teen whose girl-crazy ways transcend the centuries, and even the monsters have dimension. Pon’s writing, both fluid and exhilarating, shines whether she’s describing a dinner delicacy or what it feels like to stab an evil spirit in the gut. There’s a bit of sex here, including a near rape, but it’s all integral to a saga that spins and slashes as its heroine tries to find her way home. Grades 9-12. --Ilene Cooper