Sacrifice by Cindy Pon. Month9Books, 2016.
Cindy Pon’s previous book, Serpentine, ended on a dramatic cliff hanger, leaving me waiting a year to find out what would happen next. If you haven’t yet read Serpentine, you might wish to do so before reading this review, as spoilers are inevitable.
Skybright, who had discovered that she was part serpent demon, and her monk love Kai Sen, tried to find a way to close the breach that allowed demons to come into the human world without the traditional method of an unknowing human sacrifice. Skybright sacrificed herself. Now she travels through other dimensions with Stone, the demon lord who oversees the battles between humans and demons. Meanwhile, Kai Sen is given more and more responsibility in the monastery, even as he is less sure of its mission and his willingness to take the full vows. He’s finding that there are still demons loose in the world, though Skybright’s sacrifice should have stopped them, and he’s still searching for a way to bring Skybright back.
Zhen Ni, meanwhile, knows nothing of what happened to Skybright. She’s still heartbroken from being forced to separate from her girlfriend as well as what seems to be Skybright’s betrayal. Both of these fade into insignificance, though, as she’s given in marriage to a rich but grotesquely ugly old man who appears out of nowhere and builds a beautiful estate just for her. She soon discovers that the secrets beneath the estate contain nightmares.
The narrative alternates between all of these perspectives, as well as starting off in a dark place and getting darker from there. Pon is not afraid to make some very bold choices with the narrative. At one point, Stone is stripped of his supernatural powers, suddenly making him a much more sympathetic character. Though there is a love triangle of sorts for a while, there isn’t the easy and clear resolution that these usually have. I approved of Skybright not being forced into a choice – but really, Kai Sen deserved better than the ending he got. I know, she’s being bold, but still! Zhen Ni gets the happiest ending here, and well deserved. I was especially impressed with this. So though I didn’t agree with everything here, for the most part, this is an original tale very well told.
Be sure to catch Cindy Pon’s excellent Silver Phoenix as well, and watch for Want coming out this year.