Review: Sacrifice by Cindy Pon

Sacrifice by Cindy Pon

Sacrifice by Cindy Pon is the sequel to Serpentine and the final instalment of Skybright’s story. For those of you are new to this blog and/or don’t know me, Serpentine was the fantasy novel that took me by surprise last year. I knew Cindy Pon wrote fantasy, but I knew her more as the co-founder of Diversity in YA. I had no idea how enchanting Pon’s imagination was until I discovered the cover for Serpentine. Yep, it was the cover that drew me in, solely because it didn’t do any of the annoying things that covers tend to do when they feature a character of colour. And the book, like its cover, did not disappoint.

At the end of Serpentine, we left Skybright in a pretty hopeless situation. She sacrifices herself to save the world, but that sacrifice means being torn from the human world. It means being separated from the two people who loved Skybright best: Zhen Ni, her once-mistress, and Kai, her once-lover. She’d left both of them, these people she adored, with questions in their minds and problems left unresolved. Stone, a cold and strange immortal, is Skybright’s sole companion … and her captor. But when Stone’s powers are taken as punishment for the fact that Skybright’s sacrifice didn’t seem to work–i.e. the borders between worlds haven’t totally been closed–the shift in power allows Skybright to team up with Stone as partners, more or less.

In a lot of ways, Sacrifice continues the conversation of power imbalance, class struggle, and sexism, that began in Serpentine. Women’s sexuality, especially, is cleverly explored in this one, more so than the last one, since Skybright has grown up some and is much more careful in her understanding of romance versus sexuality. Also in this one, as you can maybe tell from the cover, the question of what constitutes monstrosity–especially where women are concerned–is less of a conversation that Skybright is willing to have. For her, this is almost a non-issue. Over her travels with Stone, away from her human companions, she has learnt to embrace every side of her. The issue is that the more she delves in her serpentine identity, the more she must confront how her mother’s past actions may effect her own future.

Bravery in the face of difficult choices and impossible situations is woven through Skybright’s story. Of course, heroism is not just a trait that Skybright has to display–it is what unites the other two perspectives in the novel. Serpentine had solely focussed on Skybright’s POV, but Sacrifice brings Kai and Zhen Ni’s POVs to readers as well. This new menace, the one that that tearing down the walls between worlds, is one they must face together. I am so glad that Pon chose to include these new POVs, since from the first book itself they are so well-developed and deserving of page-time.

Zhen Ni, I feel, could have had a novel to herself. My one complaint of Sacrifice is that, unlike with Skybright, we don’t get to see Zhen Ni really explore her sexuality or properly fall in love. My hope is that in future stories–and I’ve been told that there may be at least one companion book–we get more about Zhen Ni. What we do get of Zhen Ni in Sacrifice, however, is a real show of her strength. She shines in this novel as much as she did in the last one. It seems that being married off to a strange man and trapped in his large estate can’t seem to tame Zhen Ni’s spirit. And the horrific things–think Bluebeard–she discovers about her not-so-beloved husband can’t quash her courage. Can you tell I loved her POV best of all? That’s not to say, however, that Kai and Skybright didn’t shine in this book. They did. Cindy Pon’s ability to create these beautifully detailed worlds is only matched by the brilliant, complex characters she populates them with.

As with most endings, Sacrifice left me gasping at the plot-twists and crying over all the feelings. The last few chapters were especially heart-breaking, but I can say for certain that I, personally, loved it. Sacrifice is a perfectly paced and finely written conclusion to Skybright’s story. It is every bit as complex and beautiful as its protagonists.