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REVIEW: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

Dear Ms. Goodman,

067006227801lzzzzzzzI first heard of your novel last year while reading a fantasy blog about a book released in Australia called The Pearls of Wisdom.   Being intrigued by the premise, I looked for information about a North American release but turned up nothing.   Then a couple months ago, I received my monthly package from Jane and found this book inside.   No wonder I couldn’t find information about the book when I looked before.   It has a different title in the U.S.!   (And to make things more confusing, the title is Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye in the United Kingdom.)

What caught my interest was the fact that Eon: Dragoneye Reborn takes place in a fantasy setting loosely based on historical China with some influences from Japan and features a magic system inspired by feng shui and Chinese astrology.   I’m constantly on the lookout for fantasy novels with settings based on non-European cultures so that was more than enough reason for me to pick it up.

Eon is a twelve-year-old boy who’s been training for years in the study of dragon magic.   Dragon magic consists of two components: martial arts and actual magic.   The hope is that Eon will be chosen as the next Dragoneye apprentice.   A Dragoneye is a person who controls one of the twelve dragons that bring good fortune to the world by controlling the forces of nature.   There’s only one flaw in their plan.   Eon is actually a sixteen-year-old girl named Eona.   Girls are forbidden the use of dragon magic so it’s a masquerade that could lead to her death if she’s ever found out.

The magic system operates on a twelve year cycle, in which each dragon reigns as ascendant for one year.   When a new apprentice for that year’s ascendant dragon is chosen, the former apprentice ascends to the rank of Dragoneye.   The former Dragoneye then retires, weak and debilitated because they’ve been giving up their life energy to their dragon for the last 24 years.   There is great honor and prestige in being a Dragoneye but like all things involving power, it comes with a price.

While Eon has substantial magical aptitude, her martial arts abilities are hampered by the fact that she is a cripple.   This makes some of the stances and forms nearly impossible, something that works against her in the trials.   And sure enough, she fails to be chosen.

But then the unexpected happens.   While it’s true there are twelve dragons, one of them has been missing for 500 years: the Keeper of Truth, the Dragon Dragon (aka the Mirror Dragon), and the dragon of the East.   (Each of the dragons is associated with both a direction and an animal from the Chinese zodiac.)   After being missing for centuries, the dragon returns and chooses Eon, catapulting her directly into the rank of Dragoneye and landing her in the Imperial Court, in the middle of a vast political conspiracy to seize control of the throne from the reigning emperor.

I know many readers are tired of the girls masquerading as boys trope in fiction, but it worked for me here.   I found it interesting to see how Eon mentally tried to make herself as male as possible and rejected her feminine side.   While I won’t spoil how important it is here, that issue forms a core conflict throughout the entire book beyond the standard exploration of the increased freedom that boys have over girls in patriarchal societies like this.

Gender also plays other roles in the story.   The reason why Eon is able to masquerade as a boy so effectively is because she’s pretending to be a eunuch.   This allows her to move about without scrutiny and suspicion.   One of her first allies in the Imperial Court after she ascends to the rank of Dragoneye is Lady Dela, a favored Imperial courtier who is physically a man.   Lady Dela’s transgendered character offers a nice foil to Eon who, despite embracing the masculine, is really still female.   Eon simply rejected her femininity because not to do so would mean her death.   Lady Dela chooses to live as a woman despite being labeled a freak because to do otherwise would be untrue to her self.   It’s still somewhat rare to see this sort of exploration in fantasy novels so it was nice to find that here in addition to the non-Western setting.

Another thing I liked was the action.   I would think it hard to write martial arts effectively, to capture the action without dragging it out inh overdescription, but I really enjoyed that aspect of the book.   The sword forms practiced by the Dragoneyes were very clear to me and easy to visualize.

The question of Eon’s training was another interesting conflict in the book.   As I mentioned earlier, the normal protocol is to first train as a candidate and if chosen, then become an apprentice for twelve years and then become a Dragoneye for another twelve.   Because the Mirror Dragon had been missing for 500 years, there is no Mirror Dragoneye, which means Eon skipped the apprentice stage.   Even worse, there’s no instruction manual about how to become a Dragoneye — it’s all practical training — so Eon has to muddle through learning how to call and control her dragon on her own.   As can be guessed, that’s easier said than done.

On the other hand, one thing I wished we could have seen more of was the various dragons in action.   That was such a fresh and unique aspect of the magic system that not seeing more of it was disappointing.   I also wish we could have delved more into the mystery of why the Mirror Dragon had been missing for 500 years and what happened to the last Mirror Dragoneye.   I have my theories and based on the revelations in the final pages of the book, I can only hope we’ll learn more in the next book which concludes the duology.

Overall, I enjoyed this book for the fresh setting, interesting heroine, and various conflicts running throughout the book.   I will warn other readers though that they may find the ending something of a cliffhanger (although I personally didn’t find it as abrupt as the ending of The Hunger Games).   B+

My regards,
Jia

This book can be purchased in hardcover from Amazon. No ebook format because kids don’t like technology.

Jia is an avid reader who loves fantasy and young adult novels. She's also currently dipping her toes in the new adult genre but remains unconvinced by the prevalent need for traumatic pasts. Her favorite authors are Michelle West and Jacqueline Carey. YA authors whose works she's enjoyed include Holly Black, Laini Taylor, Ally Carter, and Megan Miranda. Jia's on a neverending quest for novels with diverse casts and multicultural settings. Feel free to email her with recommendations at [email protected]!

12 Comments

  1. vanessa jaye
    Jan 05, 2009 @ 05:45:56

    This sounds wicked cool. It’s going on my to buy list.

    ReplyReply

  2. DS
    Jan 05, 2009 @ 07:15:37

    I’m thinking about this one also. It’s available as MP3 on CDs at a reasonable price– about $25.00– but Amazon doesn’t mention the reader’s name and a quick Google didn’t bring it up. If I go for the audio I like to hear the voice before I buy or at least have had some experience with the reader.

    The one star review by the mother of the eleven year old boy who didn’t finish it because he was squicked out by a reference to the heroine’s approaching menarch was a little strange.

    ReplyReply

  3. Jory Strong
    Jan 05, 2009 @ 10:32:59

    This one sounds great. It’s a buy for me since I’m also always on the lookout for fantasy and magic that’s not based on European culture and history.

    ReplyReply

  4. Jessa Slade
    Jan 05, 2009 @ 12:51:58

    Sounds all good to me. I never get tired of the girl kicking butt in the male realm trope. And a duology is probably something I can even keep up with :)

    ReplyReply

  5. Nicole
    Jan 05, 2009 @ 17:19:21

    Thanks for the review. I saw this on a fantasy blog and put it on my library hold list a few days ago. Can’t wait to read it.

    ReplyReply

  6. dotty
    Jan 05, 2009 @ 20:13:50

    ds@2,
    http://www.eonbook.com/
    There is a sample of the audiobook here, it’s read by Nancy Wu. It is also available at Audible.
    Nancy Wu is quite well known reader, someone can correct me if I’m wrong but I think she did the Queen Betsy series of MaryJanice Davidson among others
    cheers
    dotti.

    ReplyReply

  7. Tae
    Jan 06, 2009 @ 18:19:25

    ohhh this sounds like a lovely book, I’m quite fascinated and I love YA books too.

    ReplyReply

  8. Dear Author Recommends January 2009. | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Jan 07, 2009 @ 12:00:34

    [...] Eon is actually a sixteen-year-old girl named Eona. Girls are forbidden the use of dragon magic so it’s a masquerade that could lead to her death if she’s ever found out.  Read more of the review by Jia here. [...]

  9. Best Covers of 2008 - Part 1 « Jacket Whys
    Jan 18, 2009 @ 08:29:03

    [...] so will require much, including keeping secret that she is a girl. Age 12+. Reviews, 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, 11, 12, 13,  . Book Trailer. Robe of Skulls: The sorceress Lady Lamorna has her [...]

  10. Tehani
    Jan 25, 2009 @ 05:39:31

    You might be interested to know the Australian version of this book just won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel (by an Australian author) on the weekend. It was also shortlisted in the Best Young Adult novel category for the same awards.

    It’s a great book! Gotta say, I do like the international covers a little more than the Aussie one though :)

    ReplyReply

  11. Giveaway#9: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn « Harmony Book Reviews
    Jan 26, 2009 @ 18:47:26

    [...] Goodman. I have yet to read it (it’s next on my list) but you can check out reviews for it at Dear Author and at Teens Read [...]

  12. Feng Shui
    Aug 23, 2009 @ 08:54:17

    Sounds like a good book for my daughter to read. She loves reading these sort of books.

    Thanks for your introduction, I will check out in Amazon.

    ReplyReply

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