Title: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
Author: Alison Goodman
Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Publisher: Viking Juvenile (Penguin)
Publication Date: December 2008
Hardcover: 544 pages
Stand alone or series: First book in a planned duology.
Why did I read this book: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn has garnered a lot of buzz both online and in bookstores. This marks one of Penguin’s biggest Young Adult books of 2009, and so when we were offered a review copy of this novel, I hastily accepted!
Summary: (from Penguin Group USA)
Action — a stunning magic system—swordplay galore!
Eon has been studying the ancient art of Dragon Magic for four years, hoping he’ll be able to apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But he also has a dark secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been living a dangerous lie for the chance to become a Dragoneye, the human link to an energy dragon’s power. It is forbidden for females to practice the Dragon Magic and, if discovered, Eon faces a terrible death. After a dazzling sword ceremony, Eon’s affinity with the twelve dragons catapults him into the treacherous world of the Imperial court where he makes a powerful enemy, Lord Ido. As tension builds and Eon’s desperate lie comes to light, readers won’t be able to stop turning the pages…
Eon is a twelve year old boy with a twisted leg from a traumatic accident from his early childhood. He also is a Dragoneye candidate, the first lame candidate ever to attempt the ceremony of mirrors, and to try to become a Dragoneye apprentice. Every new year, a different Dragoneye becomes the ascendant, and an apprentice is chosen by the Dragon. This time, it is the Rat Dragon, and Eon joins the boys to complete the grueling ceremony and stand hopeful in front of the mirrors. Only Eon hides a desperate secret–he actually is a sixteen year old girl, named Eona. Singled out by her master because of her raw power and talent to see all twelve dragons with her spirit sight, Eona has been trained and forced to masquerade as a boy. Saved from the deadly salt mines, Eona’s master is the only other person who knows her secret, and it is one they must guard with their lives. Should Eona’s true identity be discovered, she and her master will face certain death. When the ceremony commences, however, Eona becomes chosen not by the ascendant dragon, but by the Mirror Dragon–lost from the Dragon Council for five hundred years. Eona is soon plunged into a dangerous new world of political struggle and intrigue as opposing forces fight for control of the empire. All the hopes of those loyal to the Emperor relies on Eona and her dragon, and she must bear the burden of her secret and try to outwit the deep treachery that threatens her world.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn marks a huge push for Penguin books, and boasts aspirations of becoming the next Eragon, or with the more widespread appeal of Harry Potter. And truly, Eon reaches new highs rarely seen in young adult fiction. At face level, Eona is your typical fantasy heroine–the girl masquerading as a boy shtick is an old standby in speculative fiction, especially when combined with the notion that on Eona’s shoulders the Fate of the World rests. But it is her struggle to embrace herself and the true nature of her bond with her dragon that Eon truly shines, going beyond the standard fantasy tropes. What I loved most about this novel was its beautifully complex evaluation of gender roles, and the self-perception of gender in its characters. “Eon” struggles with her true self, burying Eona and never allowing the female part of her surface. She even thinks of herself as male, takes draughts and drugs to enhance her “Sun” powers (the male strength, thus repressing her female “moon” elements) despising and refusing to acknowledge her true self. Eona’s struggle with gender and self-perception mimics the insecurity and trepidation adolescents feel trying to grope with their own identities, and as a result it makes Eona that much more translatable and real to readers of either gender, or of all ages for that matter.
It’s also very interesting to see that two other major characters in Eona’s life as a Dragoneye also explore gender dynamics. Lady Dela serves as Eona’s guide to the political games in the palace, and is a “contraire”–a woman’s spirit born into a man’s body. Lady Dela is a concubine, dresses as a woman, and for all intents and purposes is female in every way except in body. Her bodyguard Ryko also becomes one of Eona’s fast friends and companions, and he is a eunuch trying to hide his deep emotions and love for Lady Dela. It’s an intriguing dynamic, and an intensely layered and detailed dissection of gender roles for any novel, let alone a young adult book. All three characters hold lower stations in a society that isn’t made for them–Lady Dela is seen as a freak, Ryko without his sexual maleness, and Eona as a powerless girl masquerading as a boy. In a land where tradition is law, all three struggle to find their own sense of self.
In terms of world building, Eon also excels. Drawing on a blend of Asian cultures but leaning mostly on an interpretation of Chinese dynasties and beliefs, Eona’s universe is beautifully developed and fully realized. I loved the cycle of ascendant dragons and their Dragoneyes and the ceremony of a dragon choosing its apprentice. The details of magic and how it is used in this world is also fascinating and detailed–a Dragoneye wields his energy dragon’s power at a great cost, eventually bringing him (or her) death as the energy draws from the Dragoneye’s Hua or lifeforce. The numerous rituals, the depiction of the dragons and of power are pure brilliance–Ms. Goodman does a phenomenal job of creating and maintaining her world. Similarly, the court intrigues, the struggles between the Emperor and his usurper half-brother with the help of the power-crazed Rat Dragoneye Lord Ido are riveting storylines. The power plays and struggles are plotted convincingly and executed with admirable aplomb. This makes Eon an immensely readable and detailed novel, and although some of the political maneuvering may be lost on younger readers.
My only real complaint with Eon is one that I have with many novels, especially of the young adult or urban fantasy persuasion; how obvious and predictable certain plot elements are. From early on in the novel, it is transparently obvious what Eona must do to use her dragon’s power and save her friends and her Emperor–however, Eona (and everyone else) remains oblivious to this information until it is too late. This is an incredibly irritating writing technique, but despite this I still found Eon a highly enjoyable novel. Once Eona finally does figure out what she must do, it’s a gripping climax and leaves readers breathless, anxious for more. I for one cannot wait for the release of book two, Eona: The Last Dragoneye!
Notable Quotes/Parts: I loved the buildup to the Dragoneye ceremony, and the trials each candidate had to undergo–Eona’s ordeal in the arena, fighting her horrible armsmaster is a tense scene and one of my favorites in the novel. I also loved the depiction of the energy dragons, from the initial appearance of the Rat Dragon in the arena:
Light shivered in the air above the carved gold rat. Slowly, a large claw slid into the reflection, pale blue scales glowing above five opal talons. The Rat Dragon was descending from his perch, his translucent body only solid and visible in the mirror as he passed by it. A reflection without an original. It was the first time I’d ever seen one of the spirit beasts in full physical form. My own gasp was echoed around the arena. A powerfully muscled foreleg came into view, the scales darkening into ocean blue as the underside of a broad chest and shoulder followed in the glass. Next, a beard, the white hair thick and tapered like a horse’s tail. And for a fleeting moment, beneath the coarse strands, I saw the dragon’s pearl–his source of wisdom and power–tucked under his chin and shining with blue iridescence. Then it was hidden by his flared muzzle, the delicate scales and fine horse nostrils accentuating the size of the fang that curved from his upper lip.
THe dragon turned to stare across the sand at the emperor, one large dark eye visible in the mirror, his broad bow crowned by two curled horns. I heard nervous murmuring from the crowd as both of his forelegs reached the sand, his sinuous body stretched full length in the reflection. Then it coiled like a snake and dropped behind him, the invisible weight sending up a cloud of sand and dust that fell back over his body, giving us a shimmering outline of him. He shook his head, dislodging more sand, then turned and looked at himself in the glass, the endless depth of his eyes giving him an expression of sadness. Two pale blue membranes extended out from each shoulder and rippled in the sunlight like watered silk, then folded back against his body. The heavy head swung around to face us again, the mirror showing the solid line of his spine and the thick fall of his white mane. Although his eyes were no longer reflected, I knew he was studying us, choosing his apprentice.
A beautiful depiction without being overly-ornate. Ms. Goodman has a wonderful gift for storytelling.
Additional Thoughts: Fans of Eon should also consider checking out one of the authors who blurbed this novel, the wonderful Tamora Pierce.
When I was a young adult myself, the Song of the Lioness quartet was one of my absolute favorite series’ of books. Starting with Alanna: The First Adventure, the quartet follows young Alanna Trebond as she masquerades as “Alan” to become the first female knight in Tortall.
Another recommended series is Lian Hearn’s Tales of the Otori books, which draw from feudal Japan as a setting, combined with magic, heartbreak and intrigue. A while ago Christine of The Happily Ever After reviewed the first book Across the Nightingale Floor.
Verdict: Excellent world-building, outstanding, layered characters, and an awesome attention to detail make Eon a fantastic read, and one of my favorite books of 2009 so far. Highly recommended.
Rating: 8 Excellent – and I cannot wait for the concluding volume of this duology!
Reading Next: White Witch Black Curse by Kim Harrison