Monday, November 15, 2010

Review: Eon by Alison Goodman

 Rating: 5/5
Genre: YA fantasy 
Page Count: 531 (paperback) 
Published: December 2008, by Penguin Books
Alternate Titles: Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, The Two Pearls of Wisdom, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye...
Recommended for Fans of: Tamora Pierce, The Inheritance Cycle by Christopher Paolini
Author's Website:

Synopsis: 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…

Dragons. A fantasy world and royal court in the style of Ancient China. And a girl who has spent so much time pretending to be a boy that she has almost forgotten her true self. Eon is part one of a fantasy epic spanning two installments-- the second book, Eona is yet to be released.

This book begins like so many others: a girl risking death by disguising herself as a boy, an under-dog heroine with everything to lose, and a complex fantasy world. But Eon quickly reveals itself to be so much more than just that. The characters reminded me of some of those from Tamora Pierce's books (ie The Lioness Quartet, Protector of the Small Quartet), in that there were a lot of them, but the author somehow managed to endow every character with personality and heart.  Eon(a) is a heroine who at first struck me as passive-- everything she is trying to accomplish is at the will of her master, a former Dragoneye-- but as the story wore on, she both won me over and proved that she's capable of choosing her own destiny. 

The story world is roughly based on the beliefs, settings, and traditions of Ancient China, especially the Chinese Zodiac-- each year and animal corresponds to one of the twelve mystical dragons.  The magic system is complex, and there were a few times I found myself flipping back through the pages to double-check some magical term.  The dragons themselves are a far cry from Saphira in Eragon (whom I love).  Dragoneye does not mean 'dragon rider'-- the Dragoneyes are powerful lords who are constantly involved in court politics and power struggles.  Eon(a) herself actually does not interact with the dragons as much as you might think, over the course of five hundred pages, but the moments when she does are mystical in a way that somehow transcends the words on the page. 

Another concept the story world borrows from Chinese Taoist belief is the concept of Yin and Yang, the feminine and the masculine.  I keep referring to Eon(a) as such because although she is a girl, she behaves, is treated as, and even thinks of herself as being male so frequently in the book that it was difficult even for the reader to think of her as female.  This reflects Eon(a)'s own confusion, because she also half-believes and accepts that she is a boy.  This book is a true gender-bender, and Eona is not the only character who seems to have a double identity, gender-wise.  Lady Dela is a courtier and friend of Eon(a)'s, and one of the most intriguing characters.  Lady Dela is friendly and scholarly and very wise to the ways of the court, and it is a while before Eona realizes that she's also a 'contraire'-- a woman's spirit born into a man's body.  Ryko, an eunuch, is Eon(a)'s loyal bodyguard and friend, and-- well, I'm giving nothing else away.  Suffice to say that in Eon, gender identity is a major theme and never manifests in the way that you expect. 

Altogether, I really loved Eon.  The book has gorgeous description and court intrigue, fascinating characters, an engrossing storyline... it is pretty much perfect.  My pet peeve for the novel is that it seems to have been released in just about every nation in the world-- and each edition seems to have a different title.  Of course, it doesn't affect the story at all, but it has to make for marketing hell.  I'd recommend this book to anyone who loves fantasy and especially a beautiful and magically-realized story world.

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