Inspired by the rich history of Chinese mythology, this sweeping fantasy is set in the ancient Kingdom of Xia and tells the coming of age story of Skybright, a young girl who worries about her growing otherness. As she turns 16, 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.
Serpentine has two of my favorite things in the world: monstrous girls and female friendships. Add in a world with unique mythology based on Chinese legends and an author who was recommended to me by a lot of people I trust, and it’s safe to say that my expectations were pretty high.
Here’s the thing. I got exactly what I wanted with the parts I was excited about. I got the two girls loving and supporting each other even as the boundaries between them began to grow. I got the heroine who discovered a secret about who she was and came to terms with it in a subtle-but-kickass way. I got the different and vibrant mythology. And I really liked all of it.
But I still felt like there was something missing, like I got a gorgeous but not-very-detailed sketch. I think the book maybe could have been longer, with more development of the world and some secondary characters. I don’t know how long the actual book is, but the arc was a little over 200 pages, in VERY large print, and it maybe suffered because of that.
Despite my issues with that, and with the romance, I have to stress that I really liked Serpentine. With gorgeous imagery, a subtly strong heroine, and a powerful friendship between two women at the heart of the story, I think this book will appeal to a lot of people, and I highly encourage you all to check it out.
Insta-love. Lots and lots of insta-love. Skybright and Kai Sen have met maybe three times before their first kiss and declaration of love. The relationship itself is of the cute-but-not-particularly-interesting variety, and I don’t think it was necessary.
As previously mentioned, I also would have liked more detail in the worldbuilding and history. I feel like so many things have been brought up that could have been explored in greater depth and weren’t. The duology is called Kingdom of Xia, but I don’t know anything about the actual kingdom except the very basics. I also wish Cindy Pon had gone more in depth with Lan’s character; right now, she only seems to exist as Zhen Ni’s love interest.
I realize I’ve mentioned this several times, but YES girls being friends. I really liked that Cindy Pon was able to address the class difference and power imbalance between Zhen Ni and Skybright while still making their love for each other feel very real. The friendship between them is truly the heart of the story, stronger for all the times it’s been tested, and it brought several tears to my eyes.
We also have a surprise f/f romance, which I was very happy to see. As I mentioned before, I would have liked more depth in Lan’s character, but I liked seeing f/f romance in that time period, and the exploration of the similarities and differences between Zhen Ni’s relationship with Lan and her friendship with Skybright, and the place for both in her life.
Skybright’s character had that kind of subtle, quiet strength that I don’t see too often in protagonists. She’s willing to stay in the background and make small sacrifices for others every day, but when the time comes, she’s ready to fight for those who matter to her. She grows throughout the book, and accepts the “monstrous” parts of her identity while continuing to do what’s right.
I also really liked the writing. The settings were very vivid and detailed, and the atmosphere came through strongly. The mythology was also fascinating.
Pick up if you want a story with some unique worldbuilding, thought-provoking identity exploration, and a beautiful female frienship.