Note: This series takes place in the same same universe as Silver Phoenix and Fury of the Phoenix, which were published first, but you don’t have to read those books to read these.
My Summary: Skybright is content with her life as the handmaiden and best friend of Zhen Ni. However, her comfortable, structured life is thrown into disarray when she discovers that she can grow a serpent’s tail. In the wake of this troubling discovery, she reevaluates her relationship with Zhen Ni, experiences unexpected romance, and becomes ensnared in a supernatural conflict that threatens the mortal world.
Cindy is back at it again making me hungry and creeped out (not at the same time) with her vivid descriptions. I liked the first series for its lush worldbuilding and kickass heroine; this series has that and more, including a broader scope and greater complexity.
In a departure from the tone set by the first Xia duology, Serpentine and its sequel explore the moral consciousness of demons and half-demons, who are more than just cruel monsters. Skybright’s journey to understand and accept her demon heritage functions as a metaphor of being the “other” in the real world.It puts into painful relief the struggles of living between identities, called “liminality” by academics.
Chief among the “and more” that makes this duology great is the female friendship that lies at the core of the story. Skybright and Zhen Ni are sisters of the soul. They love each other deeply and stick by each other, but they also struggle with secrets and lies and hurt each other sometimes.
In addition to the female friendship, there’s girl/girl romance! In a historical Chinese-inspired fantasy! Finding representation as a queer and Asian person is like looking for a needle in a haystack, so I have to thank Cindy for making that step in the right direction toward full diversity and inclusivity. YA needs more of this. My only complaint is that there isn’t more from the perspective of Zhen Ni (novella/sequel/companion, maybe?).
Another thing I loved about this series is the dynamic characters. All of the major characters grow and change in some way throughout the course of the story. Just when you think you know them, they surprise you with something new. The second book was narrated from three different points of view, giving readers the opportunity to become more emotionally invested in characters besides Skybright.
The second book also contains a number of surprises and twists that I did not see coming, and I liked it even more than the first book. My only regret is that there wasn’t more on what happened to Zhen Ni and Stone during the interlude between the climax and the ending.
Recommendation: Read it! You can order signed/personalized copies of the books from Cindy’s local indie bookstore, Mysterious Galaxy.