- Age Range: 12 - 17 years
- Grade Level: 7 - 6
- Lexile Measure: 870 (What's this?)
- Series: Serpentine
- Paperback: 300 pages
- Publisher: Month9Books, LLC (September 8, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1942664338
- ISBN-13: 978-1942664338
- Product Dimensions: 5.5 x 0.8 x 8.5 inches
- Shipping Weight: 12.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 65 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #308,716 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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Serpentine Paperback – September 8, 2015
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From School Library Journal
Gr 9 Up—Skybright never knew her parents. She was raised by an affluent Chinese family who took her into their home to be a handmaid to their daughter, Zhen Ni. The two grew up as close as sisters, best friends and confidants who shared everything. Skybright loves her mistress, but as both girls grow up, changes start to occur. While Zhen Ni finds love in a new friendship, Skybright discovers a new side of herself, one filled with darkness. She fights to balance her duties, the love she has for another, and this evil within herself. Skybright struggles to maintain her true self, as well as to hide what she is becoming from her closest friend. The teen doesn't know who she is anymore. Is she a servant, a friend, a lover, or a demon? Could she be all of these things, or must she choose one? This coming-of-age story takes readers on a fantastical journey through friendship and Chinese mythology. YA fans will love Pon's storytelling ability and the immersion into a world filled with love, danger, and fantasy. VERDICT Readers will be begging for a sequel to find out what happens to these intriguing characters.—Jessica Strefling, US Court of Appeals, Federal Circuit Library (starred review)
“The economical narrative conjures an entire world, drenched in color and texture and scent, rich in evocative mythology and heady action, and filled with vivid characters . . . A fast-paced and engrossing read for anyone weary of the same old hackneyed storylines.” —Kirkus Reviews
"Serpentine's world oozes with lush details and rich lore, and the characters crackle with life. This is one story that you'll want to lose yourself in." —Marie Lu, author, Prodigy
“Vivid worldbuilding, incendiary romance, heart-pounding action, and characters that will win you over--I highly recommend Serpentine.” —Cinda Williams Chima, author, The Warrior Heir
"Serpentine is unique and surprising, with a beautifully-drawn fantasy world that sucked me right in! I love Skybright's transformative power, and how she learns to take charge of it.” — Kristin Cashore, author, Bitterblue
“YA fans will love Pon's storytelling ability and the immersion into a world filled with love, danger, and fantasy. Readers will be begging for a sequel to find out what happens to these intriguing characters.” —School Library Journal (starred review)
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When the story begins, we get a good feel for Skybright’s life as handmaid (aka servant) to Zhen Ni, the youngest daughter in the Yuan home. I loved how this dynamic set up for the rest of the book. Zhen Ni considers Skybright like a sister since Skybright has been with the family her entire life, the two have never spent a day apart and bonded on a level that’s not so typical given the power dynamic here.
That said, while Skybright is treated very well as a handmaid, she’s still a handmaid. And that fact is made even more clear to her when Zhen Ni has her friend, Lan over for an extended visit. I really loved the dynamics here. Skybright is threatened by Lan because if Lan is more of a companion than Skybright could ever be, Sky really could just be knocked down to just the handmaid that she’s always been. Zhen Ni assures her that this isn’t the case and it’s up to Sky to accept this truth, what’s as close to unconditional love as Zhen Ni can provide to her. Sisterhood for the win! But change is intimidating and Sky’s emotions about the situation are not assured easily and do not become level overnight which was heartwarming to see because it was so tender and realistic in its approach. I really appreciated this so much.
A moment on Zhen Ni’s relationship with Lan. Because Zhen Ni comes from a wealthy, respectable family, she’s expected to marry off shortly after she “comes into womanhood” aka gets her period. Well, Zhen Ni gets her period but she is in love with a girl and that girl’s name is Lan. You don’t have to imagine how this goes over with her mother because it happens in the book.
In all of this, I love that Zhen Ni fights every step of the way for happiness instead of accepting what she “must” do, accepting her “duty” as a female in her position. Zhen Ni knows her worth in the position that she’s in and she also knows what’s worth fighting for – her own peace of mind. She doesn’t apologize for liking Lan and she does all that she can to find her way back to her. She defies society’s standards and that is beautiful. I loved it.
Zhen Ni and Lan and aren’t the only two cozying up. Sky finds herself in quite a timid romance between a young man she meets in the forest, Kai Sen and I say timid because Sky has enough going on without adding a romance into the mix. Needless to say, she’s hesitant to fully committing to Kai Sen. To trusting him fully. To defying society’s standards when she’s already stuck between a rock and a hard place – being a handmaid who can never marry and having the newfound secret that she can shape shift into a serpentine and is a demon.
There’s a lot on Sky’s shoulders and I really enjoyed watching the weight slowly get heavier and heavier and see how she handled it all. The story flowed seamlessly as Sky and Kai Sen tried to figure out what their differences to the rest of the world meant for them especially during a time when the door to the underworld was open.
And then the story really picked up as Zhen Ni left her home without telling anyone after a certain incident involving Lan. So Sky must not only figure out how to embrace her serpentine side but figure out what her role is in closing the door between the human world and the underworld, as well as search for Zhen Ni since ultimately, Zhen Ni is her responsibility and without Zhen Ni, Sky believes she doesn’t have a place in the Yuan home. It’s a lot but as the reader, it never feels like the journey is overwhelming. This isn’t easy to do so bravo for the wonderful pacing and layering here.
I also really enjoyed the setting, the world building, and the Chinese mythology that breathed life into all of the above. I’m not as familiar with the Chinese mythology that this story was inspired by as I should be and I’m inspired now more than ever to do my research and learn more. Also, I can’t remember the last time I read a fantasy that wasn’t inspired by European mythology so refreshing is putting it lightly. Talk about a winner.
Serpentine is such a riveting tale about secrets and sacrifice and stepping away from society’s standards to embrace all that we are and all that we have to offer. It’s a thought provoking tale about what happens when people aren’t given a chance to show that they’re against the grain and on your side, what happens when people are punished for being against the grain. It’s quite a dance on both sides of the floor, that’s for sure. Serpentine is a fully immersive reading experience, so grab your snacks and prepare to sit down with this baby until you reach the very end.
I really loved the relationship between Skybright and Zhen Ni. It was unique and interesting and definitely counter to what one would expect. Skybright is Zhen Ni's handmaiden, which basically means she's her lifetime servant. Some might call her a slave. Most narratives would have played this off as a relationship inherently fraught with conflict and cast Zhen Ni as the villain - but such is not the case here. In this Asian fantasy, it is clear that this is the expected order of the world, and Skybright accepts her place in it as part of a community. She sees Zhen Ni honestly-- as a bit spoiled and needing to have her own way-- but she also loves her deeply, and takes ownership of her mistress's appearance and accomplishments. I really appreciated this - it felt much more authentic, and Pon really steered away from imposing our own cultural expectations on the narrative. It allows the reader to appreciate that other social structures are not "evil" or "oppressive" simply because they do not reflect our expectations. I also loved the contrast between her servant-master relationship with Zhen Ni and that between her and Stone.
I also loved the pantheon of gods and demons. They were very authentically "Asian" in the sense that they are very removed and aloof, so ancient and perfect that the concerns of mortals are fairly irrelevant to them.
My one criticism is minor: people and events happen way too conveniently. Skybright wonders about demons or Kai Sen, and the instant she goes into the forest she sees them appear. Or she travels a long time to get somewhere, and Kai Sen is also magically there. It's something that bugged me, but honestly I doubt any kid reading this is going to mind.
I should say that although this book is ideally suited for girls around, say, 10-16, it definitely has broader appeal. I "read" it via audio book, and my 7 year old son caught snippets here and there in the car. He was soon begging me to let him listen along, and I finally just bought him his own paper copy, which he is reading now. I mean, serpent demons and fighting monks. What's not to love?