So I actually love this cover, it tells me exactly what this book is about. Fierce Chinese girl being all magical and shizz? That is a cover that is made of awesome. It is not, however, the cover I had on my copy. A cover so woefully inadequate and it had next to nothing to say about the story inside and that I am frankly too ashamed to feature it at all. But if you would like to see the terrible cookie cutter emo version please take a look and perhaps you can explain to me why anyone would choose to replace the gloriously pink one here with that vague wishy washy disaster.
Ai Ling seems to be un-marriageable, a succession of weak willed boy suitors have turned her down and it seems to have something to do with the rumor that her beloved father was once cast out of the Imperial palace in shame many decades ago. Then one fateful day he is suddenly summoned to return to the palace, months pass and there is no word. While her mother and Ai Ling try to make ends meet an elderly and gruesome merchant attempts to claims Ai Ling as his fourth wife. Rather than face a life squeezing out his children she runs away to find her father and bring him back. But, unbeknown to Ai Ling, her journey will be fraught with dangers straight out of the books of demons and ghosts her father always tried to stop her from reading as a child. And help joins her along the way in the form of the honorable and mysterious Chen Yong and his amusing brother Li Rong.
Cheery O-So Good To Eat
I cannot stress enough how much I loved this book. It's one of those wonderful old fashioned adventure stories that are so hard to find these days amongst all the high school weregoats and sexy vampire tax collectors. Ms Pon has created this rich and fragrant world filled with a vibrancy that bursts into your brain like a hot spring roll. I could see every character, no matter how small or inconsequential to the story, and she manages this with only a few choice words.
The demons Ai Ling, Chen Yong and Li Rong encounter were genuinely scary, a few times I found myself physically recoiling from the descriptions of their appearances and appetites. Maybe not a book to read in public cos you'll certainly find yourself gasping and cheering out loud through the fight scenes. And DEFINITELY not a book to read if you're hungry, Ms Pon knows how to write food and make you want that food immediately! I will also be eternally grateful to her for including her mother's recipe for Vegetarian Mapo Tofu in the extras at the back, which I will definitely attempt one day!
"It was a feast more then a midday meal. Master Tan must have asked his chef to prepare the best. Ai Ling could not recall a time that she had indulged in dishes this extravagant: roasted pheasant, tender spring vegetables, hand pulled longevity noodles, spotted porcelain river crabs, and emperor lobsters, named for their large size - dish after dish was brought to the table.
At the end of the meal, Master Tan stood to give a toast.
'Ai Ling, we wanted to send you off with a full stomach. May you never go hungry, even during your travels.'"And she most certainly doesn't, I do love a character that enjoys food. In fact I love Ai Ling for a whole host of reasons, she's smart, she's curious (which does get her into trouble more then once but nothing ventured...) she's tough and she certainly holds her own in a fight regardless of the two strapping lads who accompany her. And speaking of which, Chen Yong is a sword wielding gentleman made of swoon, all serious and brooding one minute and lighthearted and tender the next. Ai Ling's affections, understandably, swing to him like he's magnetic north but she never moons over him which I liked, she just nurtures her feelings quietly which was rather classy. I also had big love for Li Rong, the hilariously amorous little brother of Chen Yong. Li Rong is a total ladies man (or he thinks he is anyway) and his big mouth lets fly some classic lines that had me snickering like a little kid hearing the words poo and boobies in the same sentence.
As soon as I finished this book I wanted to run out into the streets and press it in to the hands of the first person I saw, urging them to read it too. This book really had everything I wanted from a story and the best part is that the next installment Fury of the Phoenix is already out! And it's my birthday on Thursday.........hint hint.