Let me tell you I’ve been waiting a long time for someone to write a fantasy incorporating the Chinese zodiac. It’s like when I predicted that one day someone would make Pringles shaped chocolates. Though I still haven’t tried Swoops, I did take a bite out of Eon by Alison Goodman.
Alison Goodman. Ah, the memories are returning. Anyone heard of Singing the Dogstar Blues? I hope so, it’s a good one (and I believe one of her first books?). Brings me back to those days when I used to read tons of Monica Hughes (she’s so awesome! I must get my hands on The Guardian of Isis…the residuals from that reading experience still haunt me). I never bought books back then. Borrowing was the way to go. Hmmm, the experience of creaking open an old, battered book. That funny old paper smell, those mysterious stains and squished bugs and cookie crumbs. Oh, the cookie crumbs. That’s why I shook out my books before bringing them to bed.
Eon, I plucked from the bookstore shelf on a thrillingly greedy whim. I went to the mall with a very specific aim. I wanted to buy a cute teapot with a curved spout. But I left the mall feeling like a Viking who don’t give a damn about tea and crumpets but certainly liked to hack, hog, plunder then read. But luckily there were no kids in the kids section else I’d feel like a bully.
Read all night. *Sigh*. Greed is a near-sighted monster. Mine’s cross-eyed, too. Probably needs reading spectacles.
Feeling the grogginess today but will nevertheless elaborate on the book before the boss returns from lunch break.
Author: Alison Goodman
Genre: High Fantasy
Days to read it: one and a half
Synopsis: Eon despises her femininity. The girl she was born as, Eona, is useless, weak, repressed. As Eon, she gets more respect, even though she is a cripple and a sign of bad-luck. As Eon, she can stride confidently across a courtyard and look men straight in the eyes. Most importantly, as Eon, she can qualify as a Dragoneye candidate, a very prestigious position of power in the emperor’s court. Her Master has put all his last hopes on her success. Why? Because she has the very rare ability to be able to see all twelve dragons that linger in the ebb and flow of the energy world and sometimes they seem to see her, too. When the year breaks into a new cycle, one candidate will be chosen and a dragon’s power will be given to him. As if the Dragoneye candidates didn’t get enough beatings and stress piled on them before the upcoming ceremony, the reigning Dragoneye, Lord Ido, bullies his way through odious tradition, forcing his hand on the outcome of the ceremony and whacking kids left and right who get in his way. In the last stand against the ambitious tyrant, will Eon be weakened by Eona or will the truth reconnect her to ancient powers previously lost to man’s world? It’s ultimately up to Eon to make up her heart and mind before it is too late.
Impressions: Hmm, looking around. Oops, can’t do that or I’ll get slapped. Yikes, better not walk there or I’ll be beaten. Was it bow once or twice? Better just prostrate myself completely or off goes the head!
The whole book is full of traditions and buildings and roadways and miscellaneous stuff, all with mystical flowery names like – wait, let me flip to a random page – The Pavilion of Earthly Enlightenment, or the Emerald Ring or The Gate of Good Service. Very asian themed. (No wonder there’s a map at the front of the book for the palace!) Everything is strictly disciplined and regulated, hardly anyone can slip a toe out of line or it might get chopped. Being at the bottom of that food chain for most of her life, Eona knows she better learn the protocols and follow the rules. If she doesn’t do it properly, it won’t be just her that pays the price but her entire household could be punished. That’s a lot to bear. You’ve got to be brutally selfish and uncaring if you want to go about breaking the rules and doing things your way. Like Lord Ido, for instance. All these rules can get really frustrating to the reader, and it’s thoroughly satisfying to see someone, the wicked one (of course) do some rule-breaking for a change. I was a little disappointed that Eona didn’t rebel more against all the traditions but I expect it’s a realistic reaction given her situation (constantly being beaten down by her Master, that’s a tough habit to break).
Speaking of our main character, I did find Eona a bit unlikeable at first. Her confusion over her gender seeped into every other relationship she has and kind of got under my skin for a bit. Every time she communed with her dragon I was like, “Yes!! Finally!!Now you can show them!” but then she would retreat from the truth at the last minute…I am sometimes an impatient reader and simply want to throw the book across the room and holler wordlessly. I felt like there were pacing issues and ended up skimming a few pages here and there to hurry things along, especially near the end. The end fight scene just did not capture my interest, all I remember is a lot of running around and having to make sure Lady Dela had enough time to read the folio whilst trying to act inconspicuous. But I do respect Eona. To have to face predicament after predicament with no relief in sight, that’s tough. There was one point in the story were Eon is taking these drugs (ancient herbal steroids?) and the world’s just dizzyingly confusing for her the entire day. I still can’t believe she kept on taking those drugs even when they made her feel crappier. Say NO to drugs, people. But, Eona grew on me a little more as the story progressed and she became more courageous even though the dragons kept eluding her and things were looking grim.
I found most of the character’s reactions realistic considering the world they live in. So many times I thought, “Geez, wouldn’t it be nice if that guy gave Eon a break and didn’t want to beat her up for once?” but Alison Goodman stuck to the guns impressively, making me feel like a weakling (I would so coddle my characters). If it was said in the story that there would be dire consequences for a certain breach in etiquette, there would be dire consequences. Someone’s butt’s going to get whooped, doesn’t matter if she happens to be a special Dragoneye as well as the main character readers are rooting for! No special treatment unless the character herself demands it. Respect to that. The only problem is it takes a heck of a long time for Eon to build up the courage and belief in herself to lash back at the tyrants!
And that Lord Ido! I never could really figure him out. I believe he has a story to tell but it didn’t translate from the page for me. Why was he so evil? The road to evil-dom can be so much more interesting than what conniving plans the evil guy has himself. Near the end of the book, Alison Goodman leaves a few crumbs of evidence that Lord Ido has a soft side, too, but the book ends with devastating abruptness. So I was never able to figure it out.
As for the plot, well, it wasn’t too hard to figure out. I mean, if there are usually twelve dragons, but there’s one mysterious dragon that hasn’t shown up for hundreds of years, combine that with a girl who can see all twelve dragons – its not hard to put two and two together. So, the initial premise didn’t really hook me as much as I thought it would. What did hook me was the predicament that all Dragoneyes have to deal with – that they’ll inevitably age and weaken after their year of ascendancy is up. I wonder what’s going to happen to Eon after this? His age is already so ambiguous – first a 12 year old boy who is actually a 16 year old girl who will then look – what – 30 years old?
I’m really surprised at myself for not being completely bored of the whole girl-dressed-up-as-boy-to-survive-man’s-world trope. I almost always willingly suspend my disbelief, it’s practically automatic, trained from years of growing up reading books by Tamora Pierce, for example. It’s kind of funny to think that, having your hair up or down, having pants or a skirt on, could mean the difference between boy and girl in some of these books. Especially when it comes to the big reveal. The guy’s eyes widen as she lets down her hair and suddenly, it dawns clear on him and he proceeds with the falling in love part. What I like about this book, is that Alison Goodman tries to make it a bit more realistic by making Eona take on a disguise as a eunuch. No one’s going to demand you prove your gender or do your business in the bushes with the other guys. These limitations make surviving as a boy more realistic.
So far, not much romance, but there are only so many available guy characters in the book so it’s not hard to guess what’s going to happen.
Overall, glad to add Eon to my private library. The second book, Eona, is already out so I’m not so antsy about the precipitous wall of rock I’m dangling cruelly off of by a measly thread.
“Candidate Eon approach the mirrors,” they chanted. “Face Swordmaster Ranne and show the Rat Dragon your worth.”
The cheering was ragged, covering a low hum of interest. Here comes the cripple. I stood, glad there was no food in my stomach to rise and choke me. I took one tentative step forward – still no pain in my hip. Perhaps the heat of the sands had eased it. I sent a silent prayer to Charra and Kinra, my ancestors, for strength, skill and endurance. Everything I lacked. A twist of each sword brought them home under my arms, ready. I stared at the patch of churned sand in the center. One step at a time, and I would get there. Ranne moved in beside me, matching my pace, but I did not look up. One step at a time. The arena was quiet – no stamping, no calls. Only the heavy anticipation before the prey was brought down.
For a moment, the arena disappeared into white panic. I stumbled, my focus snapped back by the sudden flare of the moonstones and jade on my hilts. Each gem seemed lighted from within, drawing my eyes into their translucent depths. Something rolled through me.
Power, rising from steel and silver. A lifetime of fighting. An old knowledge.
My mind cleared into pinpoint purpose.
Keep the sun at your back, in his eyes. Distribute your weight evenly. Never cross your feet. Gauge the combat terrain and look for advantage. Keep your grip open to allow your Hua to flow. Close it, block the Hua, to make a hammer-fist.
I looked down at my tightly curled hand. But we had never been taught the hammer-fist.
Ranne stepped into the combat area, turning to face the Rat Dragon mirror. I followed, my gaze caught for the moment in the shock of seeing my whole self in the glass. Lopsided, fine-boned, with smooth oval face of a child. Did all these men see a girl-boy standing in front of them? A Moon Shadow? Everyone knew that castration melted the bones and muscles of manhood into soft curves. Yes, this creature in the mirror would pass. Still, it was fortunate that most people glanced away from a cripple.
Except when he was fighting a swordmaster.
-Cat from Beyond Books: “Eon is a long story but it’s a good one. If you like high fantasy and if you like your fantasy spiced with an Asian feel then this book is for you. It’s rare that I read great YA high fantasy but Alison Goodman hit the nail on the head with this series.”
-Anastasia from Birdbrain(ed) Book Blog: “I really wanted to like this book. It’s got dragons, it’s got an alternate Asian world (a la Avatar: The Last Airbender), it’s got a female protagonist, it’s got…other stuff. But unfortunately, I was continuously frustrated with Eon(a), the main character, the people around her, and especially the ending.”
-Kristen from Fantasy Cafe: “Even though I felt it had some flaws – infodumping, characters who were not fully fleshed out, and a dash of magic-makes-it-better syndrome – I really loved reading Eon. The world, the exploration of the topic of gender, and culture were the highlights, and the tension in the story about whether or not anyone would discover Eona’s secret kept me fully immersed to the point where I did not want to stop reading it. I’ll definitely be reading Eona and most likely sometime soon – because I still really want to know what happens next!”
-Robert from Fantasy Book Critic: “Overall, I was impressed with Alison Goodman’s “Eon: Dragoneye Reborn”, and the flavor that it brought. Granted, there are moments when seasoned readers might find the book predictable, but the author offers enough elements to keep you reading and wanting to know more. I just hope that readers can overlook the book’s lack of action and gender issues, and enjoy the unique look at dragons that “Eon: Dragoneye Reborn” brings to the world of fantasy…”
-Graeme from Graeme’s Fantasy Reviews: “If you’re a fan of oriental based fantasy, and you like your politics particularly heavy and convoluted, then ‘The Two Pearls of Wisdom’ is probably a book that you would enjoy. If you see overly descriptive prose as a way to fully immerse yourself in the reading experience then you’ll probably enjoy it even more. I’m neither of these though and it was frustrating to see a good story trying to keep its head above water and breathe. But like I said though, I’ll probably end up giving the next book a go (at least for the first chapter or so)…”
–The Story Siren: “This book was spectacular! I really enjoyed reading it, very addicting. The story takes place in a sort of Asian themed world. Although the world itself is purely created by the author, Goodman did mirror some of the past elements of Asian culture and society. Which I thought was a wonderful addition to the overall setting. Beautiful descriptions!”
-NotNessie from Ultimate Book Hound: “This book reminded me a lot of the Alanna and Keladry books by Tamora Pierce, and I think it will really appeal to fans of those series. Eon is a similar character type. She’s a woman seeking, at great personal risk, to succeed in an area dominated by men. She didn’t always make great decisions, and I occasionally wanted to yell at her (have you noticed I tend to get REALLY involved with the protagonist when I’m reading?) when she was missing what was right in front of her”
Rating: Precisely 4 kow-tows no more no less
Other: Check out her website where she has excerpts from her book! (Whole chapters of ’em, go on, check it out!)