Monday, October 8, 2012

Review: Eon by Alison Goodman

Eon by Alison Goodman
Published: Firebird Distributing, 2010
Series: Book 1 of the Empire of Celestial Dragons Duology

The Book:

In the Empire of Celestial Dragons, the twelve Dragoneyes stand below only the Imperial Family in power and prestige.  A Dragoneyes sacrifices his own life energy, “Hua”, in a bond with one of the twelve energy dragons of the zodiac. In return, he gains great power to protect the realm, which is increased further in the year that his dragon is ascendant.  Currently, there are only eleven Dragoneyes, since the Dragon-Dragon (known as the Mirror Dragon) has been missing for hundreds of years.  This year, a fresh crop of potential apprentices will present themselves to the ascendant Rat Dragon.

Sixteen-year-old Eon is one of those candidates.  Eon’s master, a former Dragoneye, has gambled the last of his fortune to put forth Eon as a candidate.  If Eon is selected, it could return the former Dragoneye to a wealthy and powerful position. He hopes that Eon’s incredibly rare spirit sight might serve to attract the dragon.  However, Eon has two marks against her from the beginning—she has a crippled leg and she is truly a woman named Eona.  While the first condition is viewed disfavorably, the second is entirely unacceptable.  If anyone discovers Eon’s true gender, she knows she will probably be killed.” 

I read this novel for Calico Reaction’s Theme Park Reading Challenge.  Eon, which is written by Alison Goodman from Melbourne, Australia, was picked for the theme “Aussie YA”.  Eon is the first half of a duology, the second book of which is titled Eona. Eon, which ends on a cliffhanger, is clearly the first half of a larger story, but it also has its own arc that does come to a satisfactory close, in my opinion.  The first book has also been released as The Two Pearls of Wisdom, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, and Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, but I will refer to it simply as Eon throughout the review.

My Thoughts:

As far as plot goes, Eon is a pretty predictable YA fantasy.  It features a female main character who is forced to hide her gender in order to succeed. While there is almost no romance to speak of in this novel, the groundwork appears to be laid for love to blossom in the second.  The good guys are good, the bad guys are very bad, and there is very little in the way of moral ambiguity. In general, the plot points were pretty easy to see coming, and heavy foreshadowing gave away anything that was not immediately obvious. Just because there is nothing unexpected, though, doesn’t mean the story wasn’t entertaining.  I thought it was well-paced, with a good ratio of description and world-building to plot, and reading the novel was usually a pleasant part of my day.    

In addition to the predictable plot, the main character, Eon, came very close to being too clichéd for me to appreciate.  She has convenient amnesia concerning parts of her early life, and she is gifted with exceptional spirit sight, as well as several other things throughout the story. The predictability of the novel also had an unfortunate effect on the portrayal of Eon.  The solution to the central mystery is fairly clear to the reader from near the beginning, but it takes Eon much, much longer to figure it out.  Even considering that her ingrained prejudices may have clouded her thinking, this seemed to paint her as more than a little unintelligent.  Even though Eon grated on me sometimes, though, I still appreciated some things Goodman did with her character.

 One of the more interesting points of the novel was the way the characters were used to discuss gender identity.  The most notable in this regard were Eon and Lady Dela, both characters who presented a gender that did not match their biological sex.  Eon honestly believed that women were inferior to men, and so she desperately tried to suppress everything about herself that was feminine.  Even aside from the threat of execution, I think that Eon wanted to believe she had a ‘male’ spirit, so that she could be worth more in her own eyes.  Contrasted with this unhealthy attitude of gender was the transsexual Lady Dela, a force to be reckoned with in the imperial court.  She encountered many hardships by living as a woman, but she insisted that was the only way she could live and be true to herself. Through her acquaintance with Lady Dela and others, Eon is forced to engage with her own problematic ideas about sex and gender.

Another strength of the novel was its setting.  Rather than the usual pseudo-medieval European influences, Goodman’s fantasy empire took influences from several Asian cultures, mostly Chinese and Japanese.   The Empire of Celestial Dragons was obviously not a representation of any actual culture, but Goodman used many details from reality to construct a fantasy culture that felt pretty well thought out and respectful.  The story was mostly set in a small area, the imperial palace complex, and the descriptions throughout the story build it up to a delightfully detailed picture.   

My Rating: 3.5/5

Eon is a predictable YA fantasy that covers very familiar ground, but it is fairly well-constructed and entertaining.  I particularly liked the culture of the fantasy Empire, which draws influence from Asian cultures.  The story was told in the relatively small stage, mostly the imperial palace complex, and that area was very vividly described.  Though the main character, Eon, seemed at times to be annoyingly dense, I liked the gender issues that were explored through her character. I was occasionally bothered by clichés and the predictability of the plot, but I still enjoyed Eon and am planning on reading the second half of the story.

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