Monday, February 8, 2010

silver phoenix: beyond the kingdom of xia, by cindy pon.

I know very little about fantasy -- I mean, I know what it means and what stories/novels would be considered fantasy -- but if you were to ask me, "What is the archetype of fantasy literature?" or "What classic fantasy tropes do you think have been written well?" or even "What fantasy novel do you think is the most telling of its genre?", well, I'd look at you like you grew three heads in the course of a few seconds. So really, I know nothing in the most direct sense about fantasy novels.

But this is one of the best fantasy books I've read of all time. OF ALL TIME.

It's set in ancient China, complete with the folklore and customs and culture, with a female protagonist who runs away from home to go find her father. The trope in of itself has been done before, but there is such originality that Pon brings, like the language and prose-- simple and lilting, that makes me feel like I'm there with Ai Ling. One of my favorite things that I love about her, though, is her resoluteness and true acts of bravery. When she met up with the sea dragon, I seriously got shivers because of 1) my love for dragons who aim to protect humans, and 2) everything was peaceful and full of light and everything felt right.

Oh, some of my favorite things is all the bits with Ai Ling and Chen Yong. Their bond! It is seriously so impressive to see how they changed and evolved, how Ai Ling grew up along the journey, with Chen Yong watching. This part made me SAD:

"It was a mistake to ask you to accompany me to Master Tan's. We should go our separate ways." He spoke without looking at her.

The numbness remained. Good. She willed her features to stay composed.

"Get her a room." Chen Yong threw two gold coins on the bamboo counter. They clinked and rolled in opposite directions before the barkeep's large palms stopped them both.

"Oh. She'll get the best in the house at that price," the barkeep said, grinning widely at them.

"I don't need your alms," Ai Ling said, her heart thudding in her ears.

Chen Yong turned without saying another word. He shoved the dark blue cloth aside and vanished.

Sometimes the way they look at each other makes me ♥_♥ at my page. Mostly, I'm fascinated by Chen Yong and his journey. I love how Pon never divulges much, only what the reader needs to know -- I guess to remain as mysterious as possible? Or possibly so she can explore in her sequel -- but the way he makes Ai Ling woozy and feel, makes me so happy--

Ai Ling's legs quivered at the thought of climbing a mountain, no matter how small. Chen Yong rolled up the parchment and met her gaze. The skin under his eyes was dark, as if faintly smudged with soot. Weariness from travel had sharpened his features, making his amber eyes deeper set, his jaw line and cheekbones more defined. She blinked and half turned, embarrassed, when she realized she was staring.

--the way she easily forgives when he smiles or stands near her. The farewell at the carriage at the end! So much pining! Ugh, them.


This might be my favorite passage out of the book, though--

Chen Yong retrieved the bundle and sat down next to the fire, removing a thin folded parchment with careful hands. The page was yellowed, the black calligraphy visible from the underside as he held it to the light.

Ai Ling watched as he folded each letter after reading it and opened another with gentle fingers. Li Rong sat up, scratching his head. He opened his mouth to speak, saw the expression on Chen Yong's face, and lay back down again.

So it went until the mist dissipated and sunlight shone through the bamboo leaves above them. Chen Yong sat hunched near the flames, his broad shoulders folded forward, in a posture of reverent prayer. He was oblivious to everything by the words written by a father he never knew. Ai Ling's gaze did not stray from his face. Faint lines creased between his dark brows at certain moments, crinkled around his eyes when he narrowed them as he read.

Finally he folded the last letter and tied the blue ribbon around the bundle once more. Having stayed silent longer than she would have believed was possible, Li Rong spoke. "What did the letters tell, old brother?"

But Chen Yong didn't reply and wiped the tears from his face.


But really, if I'm going to leave you with anything, it'd be this--

"Eating like this reminds me of our journey," Chen Yong said.

"I come here often with a snack. I think about it a lot."

"And by snack, do you mean two sweet buns, a thick slab of bread, and lots of dried pork?" He laughed before she could retort. But the sound of it lifted her own spirit, and she chuckled despite herself.

"I usually just have a fruit myself," he said.

Ai Ling tossed a persimmon into his lap. "I'm sorry if you don't know how to eat properly."

He threw his head back and laughed again. She tried to capture the moment like a sketch within her mind, the feeling of his shoulder pressed against hers, the warmth of the autumn sun on their faces.

harry potter and the chamber of secrets, by j.k. rowling

Remember when I said that the best part about this series was the worldbuilding? Clearly I have not met the Weasleys in depth. They are so charming and hilarious and adorable, with their flame-hued hair and sharp, witty sense of humor! Ron! Ginny! Fred! George! Mr. Weasley! Even Percy, who is adorable by acting weird when he's finally dating a girl he really likes (god, boys are so fucking weird ♥).

I think it first started here, where I was CHARMED OFF MY FEET and didn't know what to do because I was beaming my face off:

"Harry?" said Mr. Weasley blankly. "Harry who?"

He looked around, saw Harry, and jumped.

"Good lord, is it Harry Potter? Very pleased to meet you, Ron's told us so much about--"

"Your sons flew that car to Harry's house and back last night!" shouted Mrs. Weasley. "What have you got to say about that, eh?"

"Did you really?" said Mr. Weasley eagerly. "Did it go all right? I-- I mean," he faltered as sparks flew from Mrs. Weasley's eyes, "that-- that was very wrong, boys -- very wrong indeed..."

"Let's leave them to it," Ron muttered to Harry as Mrs. Weasley swelled like a bullfrog.

And I love the fact that Ron is always blushing, cheeks or ears going pink--

"It's a bit small," said Ron quickly. "Not like that room you had with the Muggles. And I'm right underneath the ghoul in the attic; he's always banging on the pipes and groaning..."

But Harry, grinning widely, said, "This is the best house I've ever been in."

Ron's ears went pink.

♥_♥ CAN I PINCH HIS CHEEKS? UGH, HIS LITTLE FACE. And Mr. Weasley's love for all Muggle-related things -- "But you're Muggles!" said Mr. Weasley delightedly. "We must have a drink! What's that you've got there? Oh, you're changing Muggle money. Molly, look!" He pointed excitedly at the ten-pound notes in Mr. Granger's hand. -- and Mrs. Weasley's exasperation at her entire family, how she's so annoyed, yet so fond. I love them! If I don't get more Weasley family interaction, I will be massively disappointed, to be honest. Don't let me down, Rowling!

Besides that, Hermione is still a nerdy, adorable thing--

Ron shook his head, wide-eyed. Hermione, however, clapped a hand to her forehead.

"Harry -- I think I've just understood something! I've got to go to the library!"

And she sprinted away, up the stairs.

"What does she understand?" said Harry distractedly, still looking around to tell where the voice had come from.

"Loads more than I do," said Ron, shaking his head.

"But why's she got to go to the library?"

"Because that's what Hermione does," said Ron, shrugging. "When in doubt, go to the library."

As for Harry, hmm, I don't really have an opinion of him either way. I thought it would change in the second book, but it hasn't. I don't hate him, but I don't particularly love him, either. Sometimes he can be annoying and makes me roll my eyes, and other times I'm kind of fascinated about what the kid is even thinking because he's really smart. He's kind of average to me, a wash. I'm much more interested in Ron and Hermione's relationship with each other and how much they will support and defend Harry till the end than Harry himself. I don't know if this will change, but I'm interested to see how Rowling develops his character as the books roll along.

Oh! Ahahaha, okay. I could tell Gilderoy Lockhart was a fake during the first press thing they had in the bookstore in Diagon Alley. What a doofus! Oh, but did he bring the lolz. The pixies!

Monday, February 1, 2010

GLBT Reading Challenge 2010

Signing up for this challenge, as well, mostly like the Rainbow Level. I'm not exactly sure what I'm going to read -- probably feel around as I go, which I think works best with me, anyway -- but I'm really excited for this. We'll see how it goes.