November 26, 2012

Review: Eon by Alison Goodman


Eon by Alison Goodman
Published: 2010, Firebird (Originally 2008)
Series: Eon, #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Source: Personal book
   

"I found power in accepting the truth of who I am. It may not be a truth that others can accept, but I cannot live any other way."
 

When I started hearing about this Asian-inspired fantasy series where a girl masquerades as a boy in the hope of becoming a Dragoneye, a leader of the people through a connection to a dragon, I just knew that this would be a perfect Amanda book. I have never been able to resist stories with girls pretending to be boys in order to gain power and legitimacy in their societies, and I love the idea that this is a fantasy book influenced by Eastern cultures, most specifically Chinese. And how right I was.

Eona has been training for the past four years in the hope of being selected as the Rat Dragoneye apprentice. Although sixteen and a female, Eona has the power to see eleven of the twelve celestial dragons, guardians of her empire. It is because of her rare talent that Eona is a candidate for the Dragoneye apprentice position. In the eyes of her nation, Eona is Eon, a twelve-year-old boy weakened by a broken hip. They do not see Eona for who she really is, for no girls are approved for candidacy, much less allowed to become an apprentice and eventual Dragoneye. The price for disobedience is death, yet Eona and her master are willing to take this chance in the hopes to improve both their lives.

While the sword ceremony does not go quite as planned, Eona finds herself elevated to a status she could only dream of: the chosen Dragoneye of the fabled Mirror Dragon, that has refused to choose a Dragoneye for the past century. She's been given everything she could ever want, but her life is not as perfect as she'd hope. The Mirror Dragon is the dragon of truth, as should her life be as the Mirror Dragoneye. But the path that Eona has chosen ensures that any mention of the truth will become synonymous with her destruction. 

I'll easily admit that I love reading any instance of a female masquerading as a male. But in Eon, Alison Goodman does not exclusively use Eona to study gender constructs, but rather examines the implications of gender constructs on the society as a whole. Our protagonist Eona takes drugs and does whatever she can to ensure that her sun (masculine side) overrides her moon (feminine side). Indeed, Eona's suppression of her feminine side is so complete that her inability to form an understanding of her life and role as a Dragoneye makes complete sense. At every moment she is very much conscious of what will happen to her if others learn her true identity. Any slips of her true identity are few and far between. While I found her resolve and sense of masculinity to be incredibly impressive, it is also more than a little tragic to see how much Eona must deny her true self and desires.

Goodman continues to examine gender through many secondary characters. When Eona first meets Lady Dela, a contraire, or a physical man who outwardly expresses his inner feminity, Eona is understandably confused. If she hadn't suppressed her feminine side, then she would still be working in the salt mines. For Eona, masculinity gives her power and freedom, and it takes the example of Lady Dela and weeks of self-reflection for her to realize that femininity contains its own sort of power. But traditional ideas of masculinity are also turned upside-down. Ryko is a eunuch, yet he acts with such traditional masculinity and strength. In this culture, many men take Sun drugs to increase their sun. These drugs, however, show additional flaws in this masculine-dominant society by poisoning users and causing them to become a little crazy. I love that the outward picture Goodman presents appears to be a traditionally masculine society with Eona as the outlier, but an in-depth study shows so many cracks and inconsistencies within this system.

If I never read another book about dragons, I will count myself content. I absolutely adored the dragons that Goodman created, magnificent and powerful but also so very distant. All Eona requires to see them is a slight refocusing of her vision, but Dragoneyes must enter a trance in order to commune with their dragons, while the common people can only see the dragons once a year when a new Dragoneye apprentice is chosen. Yet the dragons are absolutely essential to the lives of those residing within the Celestial Empire, powerful enough to divert natural disasters and ensure good harvests. And the twelve dragons represent the twelve animals of the Chinese zodiac! And the twelve compass points. And different virtues. I loved how meaningful the dragons and, by extension, their Dragoneyes are to the culture. 

I really appreciated the amount of research that Goodman obviously put into this story. Everything felt so vivid and wonderfully real to me, from the story robes to the castle layout to the descriptions of traditional gender roles. I've never been to China and have not formally studied its culture, but I have an adopted Chinese sister, and so my family has made an effort to learn more about China and celebrate her Chinese heritage. A lot of little details seemed to ring true for me here. This will definitely a book I'll share with her when she gets a little older.

The one part that did not enthuse me quite so much is the political machinations. I love reading about political intrigue within books, especially fantasies, but the one between the emperor and his brother, High Lord Sethon, fell a little flat for me. The conflict was ostensibly between the two of them, but, as the story progressed, it was clear that they are nothing more than figureheads for bigger movements and ideologies. Perhaps I was simply too wrapped up in all the other aspects of the novel, but nonetheless, the politics are well-done and of utmost importance within the context of the novel.

In Eon, Goodman has created an incredibly layered world and a heroine worth admiring. Eon is more than a story about a girl who does not wish to follow conventions, but rather about this girl's small part in a society on the verge of many changes. This was an incredible read and I highly recommend it to all fantasy fans, as well as those interested in gender studies and strong female heroines. I am so glad that I bought a physical copy of this book and can't wait to read its sequel, Eona.
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Amanda

Amanda loves few things better than sitting down with a cup of tea and a book. She frequently stays up far too late, telling herself she just needs to finish one more page. When she's not wrapped up in the stories of others, Amanda works as a children's librarian in a public library.

10 comments:

  1. This is such a detailed and thorough review - I really feel like I have a good understanding of exactly what to expect with Eon, a book that, surprisingly, I hadn't heard of until now!

    Great review!

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    1. That's very kind! Thank you, Kelly!

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  2. Yay! I'm so glad you enjoyed this one! I loved it too and while I haven't picked up the sequel yet, I've heard it's much better, so I'm very excited about reading it. Fantastic review, Amanda! :)

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    1. Even better? I'm very curious to see how that's possible. But excited! Just need to read a few more books and then turning back to Eona's world. Thanks, Keertana!

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  3. SOLD. I have heard about this book for what seems like forever, and even though my library has a copy and everything, I have not checked it out. Why? I don't know. I love fantasy. I love girls masquerading as boys and I love the gender issues that arise. And I am actually a new lover of dragons (Seraphina by Rachel Hartman has made me a believer!) And after reading this awesome review, I really have no reason not to head to my library tomorrow and check Eon out. I think I'll do just that:)

    And this. LOVE this:

    "I've never been to China and have not formally studied its culture, but I have an adopted Chinese sister, and so my family has made an effort to learn more about China and celebrate her Chinese heritage. A lot of little details seemed to ring true for me here. This will definitely be a book I'll share with her when she gets a little older."

    That just made me smile. I hope your sister loves this book as much as you:)



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    1. Yay! :) There are so many books out there, there's no way we could read even all those we have within easy access, unfortunately.
      And wow I totally forgot about Seraphina. But I loved that book as well! Okay, so two dragon books I really liked haha.
      I really hope you do check out this book and experience the magic of Eona's world!
      And aw thank you! I hope so too. It's just a little too mature for her right at this moment. It's not a true Chinese world or anything, but it'll help even finding books with female Asian protagonists for her to read, I think. And this book was just awesome as well.

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  4. Oh yes, this one really sounds like it has a TON of elements that I like in a book, too - and it surprises me that I haven't read it yet for that reason! Just need to find the time, I guess (story of my blog-life). I seriously love that the author has taken the time to examine gender in the book. Excellent. Oh, and a pretty snazzy review, too!!

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    1. Well, it's never too late to read a book, so I think you should go ahead and give it a try at some point. :) Thanks, Aylee!

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  5. Totally agree with your take here. I loved the world she built and I was very interested in Eon/a's battle with herself and her gender in the world of the dragoneyes. But I also agree that the politics of it all was a bit tiring. My biggest gripe was just how long it took Eon/a to figure out what was going on. It was almost painful at times how obtuse she was.

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    1. Thank you, Flannery! I know what you mean about Eona's gradual realization haha but I'm not sure what it says about me. I think I was just as obtuse reading this as Eona was. All the pieces were there and I kept thinking that something was weird but it never clicked.

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