Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
You may want to take this review with a grain of salt, because I’ve been mostly underwhelmed by a lot of this year’s big buzz YA fantasy and science fiction books. Impossible? Didn’t like it. (There was a discussion on YALSA-BK about it last month that pretty much echoed my thoughts.) Graceling? I guess I liked it, would definitely recommend it to any Tamora Pierce fan, and a lot of other people, but didn’t love it. (Although I would totally read Bitterblue’s story.) Little Brother? Thought it was important, but not necessarily a great book. The Hunger Games? Had to finish it in one sitting, but afterwards, I started to nitpick. Bewitching Season? Okay, maybe not a big buzz book, but almost everyone else enjoyed it. The only one I really liked was The Adoration of Jenna Fox.
So with all this in mind, I wasn’t sure what to expect from Alison Goodman’s Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. I was looking forward to reading it (admittedly, mostly because of the cover) and I found the setting, which is like a fantasy mashup of historical Japan and China, fascinating. But while I do want to read the next book, I have a hard time saying that I liked Eon. The pacing was too leisurely for all the swordfighting and political intrigue, and everything was just a bit too predictable.
It is believed that only males are able to control one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune that protect the land. Each year, a twelve-year-old boy is selected from a group of twelve candidates to be trained as an apprentice before becoming a Dragoneye.
Every New Year’s Day the cycle turns, the next animal year begins and its dragon becomes ascendant, his power doubling for that twelve months. The ascending dragon also unites with a new apprentice to be trained in the dragon magic, and as this boy steps up to his new life, the prior apprentice is promoted to Dragoneye and into his full power. (from page 2 of the ARC)
The boy called Eon has a secret: he’s not a boy at all, but a girl named Eona. Eon, although crippled and female, has more talent than any other candidate her master has ever trained because she was able to see the energy dragons without any training at all. Having already spent the fortune he earned as a Dragoneye training previous candidates, none of whom were selected, Eon’s master needs her to be selected as the next Dragoneye apprentice. But the ascending Dragoneye is power-hungry and scheming to ensure another candidate is selected in order to further consolidate his power.
There’s a lot to enjoy in this book, starting with the fantastic setup. The setting was a very nice change of pace from all the quasi-medieval European fantasies out there, and so richly drawn that you can tell Goodman spent a lot of time creating this world. It is not superficial at all. I especially enjoyed the complex social interactions in the story, not just between Eon and her master, which was believably tense, but also in terms of protocol for dealing with nobles, royals, and servants, as well as how gender is dealt with. If you’ve read Goodman’s Singing the Dogstar Blues (or know anything about Chinese history), you won’t be surprised to discover the truth about Lady Dela, who becomes Eon’s mentor in the ways of the royal court (except she’s not an alien. Just a hint), or to learn how important eunuchs are to the story. Eon herself preteds to be a eunuch to deflect suspicion about her true gender. And then there’s all the political intrigue and swordfighting. And the dragons.
But… I sometimes felt Goodman spent too much time exploring the world she created and not enough on the story itself. Maybe this will be of more importance in the next, and final, book in the series. (Yay! A two-book series!) As far as this one goes, though, all the focus on worldbuilding made the story drag at times. Goodman doesn’t write with a particularly exciting style, and maybe that would have been at odds with the culture of the setting, but I wouldn’t call the story fast-paced at all. Yet she interested me enough in the world and Eon’s future that I am looking forward to the next book. Which, I think, says something about the book. I mean, I’ve read other books, the first in series (both fantasies and non-fantasies), that I probably *enjoyed* more than this one, but left me without feeling that I *had* to read the next book to find out what would happen to the protagonist.