Author: Cindy Pon
Series: Kingdom of Xia: Second Series, #1
Publication Information: Month9Books, 2015
Genre: Young Adult – Fantasy
Rating: 2 Stars
Recommended For: People who like to be immersed in settings.
Warnings: Sexual content
SERPENTINE is a sweeping fantasy set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology.
Lush with details from Chinese folklore, SERPENTINE tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns sixteen, 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.
(Summary from Goodreads)
I was excited to read SERPENTINE because of the setting, which is based in large part on China. I wasn’t disappointed in this respect, but the setting was the only part of the book I was really able to get into.
From the beginning, we’re immersed in the setting. I loved how well the details came to life all throughout the story, and it was nice to read a fantasy novel that wasn’t based on Europe. It also made me want to learn more about Chinese history, which isn’t something I’m as familiar with.
I wasn’t into the characters at all. I realize that, as a handmaiden, Skybright is expected to fade into the background so as not to overshadow her mistress. But we spend the whole book in her head, so I was hoping there’d be more going on with her. For me, there wasn’t. She spends the whole book centered on the people around her – first her mistress, Zhen Ni, and then the boy she falls in love with, Kai – and we don’t really get to know who Skybright really is. While that isn’t necessarily unrealistic, it didn’t make for the most interesting narration.
Also, the romance between Skybright and Kai fell flat for me, in large part because of my aforementioned issues with Skybright. The romance felt really underdeveloped for this reason. We also don’t get to know Kai very well; all I got was that he trains with the monks and that he’s fascinated by Skybright, so I couldn’t get into his character, either.
The subplot with Zhen Ni was interesting, though. I don’t want to spoil it, so I won’t give specifics, but I’ll say that it was explored very well through Skybright’s eyes.
I think people who prefer quieter heroines will probably have more luck with this one than I did.
TL;DR: Strong on setting but characters and relationships fell flat.