Sunday, October 16, 2016

When the Sea Turned To Silver written and illustrated by Grace Lin

The Tiger Emperor, disguised as a soldier, is going around to all the mountain villages and kidnapping men to help build a Vast Wall around his entire kingdom. When the Emperor arrives in Pinmei's village, not only does he take all the men, but he also takes Amah, her elderly grandmother known as the Storyteller.  Amah had hidden Pinmei in a large empty wine vessel to keep her safe.

Before the soldiers leave, young Yishan arrives at the hut and demands they not take Amah, but the Emperor only laughs.  Tossing him aside, he tells Yishan that he can have her back when he brings the Tiger Emperor a Luminous Stone That Lights The Night.  As they leave, the soldiers set fire to the little hut Pinmei and Amah lived in.

Pinmei and Yishan decide to go rescue Amah and set out on a quest to find a Luminous Stone That Lights The Night, traveling from their home on the Never-Ending Mountain through deep snows in what seems to be a never ending winter to the City of Bright Moonlight. Along the way they are given much help in exchange for one of Amah's story, which Pinmei knows by heart.

Pinmei and Yishan are not in the City of Bright Moonlight long before they must journey to the Crystal Palace at the bottom of the sea to seek the help of the Sea King and then back to the Capital City to try to get Amah released from the Tiger Emperor's dungeon.  Along the way, Pinmei begins to suspect that Yishan is hiding something from her as his demeanor begins to change to a more confident person when dealing with all the obstacles they meet on the quest to rescue Amah.  Her suspicions aren't without foundation, providing one of the big surprises at the end of the story.

Besides Pinmei and Yishan's journey, there are parallel chapters of Amah in a dungeon with a fellow prisoner, a stonecutter, as well as the plight of the entrapped Black Tortoise of Winter, both adding to the mystery and enchantment of Pinmei's adventure. At the heart of this cleverly woven tale is the Tiger Emperor's desire for invincibility but also for immortality and he is willing to do anything to achieve that. But why did the Tiger Emperor kidnap Amah, the Storyteller? Why did he ask for a Luminous Stone That Lights The Night? And why can't the Black Tortoise move on so that winter can end?  How can they help the Emperor achieve what he wants?

The answers to these questions can be found in the stories that Pinmei and Amah tell and which are strategically interspersed throughout the book (of course, I didn't realize the strategic part on my first reading of When the Sea Turned To Silver).  Though rooted in traditional Chinese folktales, Grace Lin has given them her own spin to support the story of Pinmei, Amah, Yishan and the selfish Tiger Emperor.

I was really looking forward to reading When the Sea Turned To Silver and I wasn't disappointed. It is an adventure with lots of twists and turns, where nothing is as it seems and there are a few surprises along the way  The tales fit smoothly and relevantly into the framing story, so the reader doesn't experience any disjunction or lose track of Pinmei and Yishan journeys.

When the Sea Turned To Sliver is the third companion in the trilogy that so far includes When the Mountain Meets the Moon and Starry River of the Sky but you don't need to have read these two previous tales to enjoy this third one.  Although there are references to the past narratives, this one does stand alone.

I found the writing to be clear and clean, but not quite as lyrical or poetic as Lin's two previous novels.  In fact, sometimes I thought Yishan sounded a little colloquial.  None of this takes away from the loveliness of the basic story, but I was surprised by it.

When the Sea Turned To Silver is an enchanting work and Lin has invented an imaginative ancient Chinese world that is at times rather dark in tone and at other times is just beautiful. And she has provided the reader with illustrations that will take your breath away, beginning with the cover, and continuing with the full color images throughout the book and the two-tone vignettes at the start of each chapter.
This illustration is one of my personal favorites.  I love the way Lin frames her illustrations like her stories with what appears to be her version of traditional Chinese designs that fit her story. You can see that Lin really puts a lot of care and  thought into what she creates.  In this first full color illustration in the story, you can almost feel the bitter cold of the winter that is going on and on, and the isolation in which Pinmei, Amah and Yishan live (Yishan lives alone in a different hut since his Aunty Meiya died).

When the Sea Turned To Silver is a eminently readable, spellbinding tale that is sure to please fans of Grace Lin, young readers who enjoy good fantasy, and everyone who likes to read.

This book is recommended for readers age 9+
This book was purchased to send to my Kiddo, but I read it first.

Marvelous Middle Grade Monday is a weekly event hosted by Shannon Messenger at Book Ramblings, and Plenty of Shenanigans


  1. I haven't read any of the books in this series. You're review of this one convinced me to add them to my TBR list. Very intriguing story line.

  2. I haven't read any of these, but I have heard a lot about When the Sea Turned to Silver. Great review!

  3. I loved the first book, but didn't realize there were more until recently. This is definitely on my list once I finish Starry River to the Sky. Thanks for featuring it!

  4. I was wondering how this measured up to Where the Mountain Meets the Moon. Thanks for a great review.

  5. I love stories that sound like ancient folktales and it looks like this fits the bill. Thanks so much for your thoughtful review. I will check this out.

  6. This sounds super magical and fun! I love stories like these, perhaps when my TBR list gets a little more under control, I'll give it a go! :) ~Sue Kooky


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