In the ancient Chinese Kingdom of Xia, Skybright has been a handmaid and companion to Zhen Ni her whole life. Despite Skybright’s role as a servant, her relationship with Zhen Ni has been closer to that of a sister. They’ve spent their days together, sharing their thoughts and secrets. Now that they are sixteen years old, change is coming for both of them. Their sister-friendship will be tested in ways neither of them could have predicted.The arrival of Lan, a guest at the manor house, has Skybright feeling excluded as Zhen Ni forms a deep attachment to her new friend. When Skybright meets Kai Sen, a young man from the nearby monastery, she is drawn to him despite the impossibility of a relationship. More importantly, though, in the midst of these changes, Skybright has to face a truth about herself that she doesn’t fully understand. When she begins to wake in the night to find the bottom half of her body physically transformed into a serpent, she is frightened and determined to keep her shapeshifting a secret, especially from Zhen Ni and Kai Sen. As the natural and supernatural worlds commingle, sometimes violently, Skybright struggles to make sense of her new reality. What is she becoming? Does she have any control over her own destiny? And will the people she cares about still love her if they know her secret? Cindy Pon explores these questions in a story loosely based on Chinese mythology and ancient history. Her world building brings the Kingdom of Xia into sharp focus and evokes a strong sense of place inhabited by vividly drawn characters. While the first installment of Skybright’s story answers some questions, the ending raises many more and sets Skybright on such an unfathomable path that readers will be anxious for the next book.
What I loved: I already mentioned a strong sense of place, but that is a thing for me, so I’ll say again that I loved being in that world. I love that it was a mythical world, but had a feeling of being grounded in history and in a culture that is unfamiliar to me. I also love Skybright’s strong sense of loyalty that remains as she grows in independence and strength. While all of the characters are well-developed, I’m most interested to see how Skybright, Kai Sen, and Zhen Ni will grow and develop in the next book. The ending was not AT ALL what I predicted, so I’m anxious for the sequel.