By: Cindy Pon
Publication Date: September 15th, 2015
Format: Kindle E-Book
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.
If you were paying attention to the blog this past summer, you might have seen a lot about Serpentine and Cindy Pon–we offered three chapter reveals and a cover reveal. Well, after all of that publicity, Em and I devoted ourselves to our enormous to-read piles, and forgot all about it–until, that is, I picked Serpentine up over Spring Break.
Especially considering all the hype, I was a bit disappointed. Although the book somewhat lived up to the premise presented in the preview chapters, I disliked a lot of the later plot twists and basically just hated the ending. That being said, though, as a whole the book was entertaining, engaging and fairly original.
What I liked: Skybright’s character. She’s solid and down-to-earth, despite being literal demon spawn, and she’s sassy and impertinent when she feels like it. She’s aware of her lowly place as a servant, but wants something more–although she maybe gets a lot more than she expects. Zhen Ni I also enjoyed, although I didn’t expect to–she seemed at first like an über-typical spoiled brat, and then surprised me by showing a depth of loyalty and resolve that I wasn’t expecting. Especially in the context of a very traditional, almost rigid China that is presented, they both felt wonderfully fresh.
I also liked Zhen Ni’s story. In the preview chapters I got very worried that there was going to be some sort of awkward thing between Zhen Ni and Skybright, especially since it was ALSO setting up something between Skybright and Kai Sen. Instead, fortuitously, Lan was presented to us. I really appreciated having a lesbian love story in a traditional Chinese setting, but I wish it had been more fleshed out, and more than just a plot device.
Skybright and Kai Sen had a much less enjoyable love plot. At first, it felt very natural–two outcasts, in social limbo and with worrying connections to bad things. I enjoyed their relationship at first, and thought it could lead to something substantive–it even felt less like Insta-Love at first, because they had so much in common. But, but from about the halfway point, the love story see-sawed wildly, and attempts at re-introducing emotion were unconvincing.
Part of this may have been because I ended up disliking Kai Sen quite a bit. In the first few chapters I was optimistic about him, but he became more and more unpleasant throughout the book. When he and Skybright ended up on opposite sides of the demon war, I wasn’t overly surprised–I was more surprised by his pathetic attempts to make it up to her after ACTUALLY CUTTING HER FACE OPEN (even if it was somewhat by accident). And, despite them somehow kissing and making up, I wasn’t much surprised by his cowardice towards the end. He was too much of a wimp to stop obeying his abbot, and too much of a wimp to genuinely fight for Skybright where and when it mattered, it felt.
I also disliked the demon-war plot–which is problematic, because it took up over half of the book. I think I liked the preview chapters because it was a smaller scope, that felt tight and defined. Once the story exploded into demon-war, I felt as if I lost grasp with the plot in a big way. Setting and characterization felt as if they were sacrificed for lots of badass fighting with demon creatures.
I liked Serpentine because it was fast-paced, entertaining and fresh–which is exactly what the earlier preview chapters showed me. But I felt that the longer the book went on, the more frenetic it became, and I was ultimately left frustrated by the ending.
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Disclaimer: The synopsis and cover picture were pulled from the book’s Goodreads page. Neither belong to us.