Monday, March 6, 2017

The Awesome Dragon Is A Girl

Hola Readers!  Time to get another rambling out there.  Today I'm gonna ramble about a book that has been on and off my radar for a couple of years.  I think that the book gods were making sure I saved it for a special occasion and reading Eon by Alison Goodman while at the Asian themed Wynn in Las Vegas was about as perfect as it could get.  Do you want to know why I loved it?  Ok, but first, as always SPOILERS AHEAD!
The current year in our story is the year that the Rat Dragon ascends to power and a new apprentice to become this dragons next Dragoneye (more on that in a second) is chosen.  Our main character Eon has been training for years for the opportunity to be in contention for this prestigious and once in a life time chance...and oh yeah, he is actually a disguise...'cause only boys can be Dragoneyes.  While she trains we learn that in this world there are twelve celestial dragons, Ox, Tiger Rabbit, Snake, Horse, Goat, Monkey, Rooster, Dog, Pig, Rat and Dragon (also known as Mirror). Every dragon represents a different virtue, color and point on the compass.  Each dragon ascends to power once every 12 years where there power is doubled and the Dragoneye can use it's dragon's power to control elemental forces to help their country.  Each ascension see's a new apprentice chosen, the old apprentice promoted to Dragoneye and the current Dragoneye retired.  This happens because being a Dragoneye is extremely draining, physically, emotionally and mentally.  Unfortunately for this neat cycle the Dragon Dragon (also called the Mirror Dragon) has been missing for over 500 years after it's temple was destroyed by fire.  Nobody really knows what happened and the Mirror Dragons ascension year is handled in a rotation.  Ok now that we have that out of the way lets get back to the story.  Eon. besides being a girl in disguise, has the added handicap of having a permanently injured hip.  This is offset by Eon's ability to see all the dragons, not just the one she is hoping will choose her, this is super rare and the reason Eon's master went through the trouble of training and hiding her gender.  As all good stories go all kinds of troubles and trials occur to hinder our heroines path to Dragoneyehood.  Unfortunately, she is not chosen by the Rat Dragon, her friend Dillion...who is still a surprise as he was not considered a real contender...was chosen instead.  The current Dragoneye to the Rat Dragon, Lord Ido, is an ambitious and cruel man who is not happy with his Dragon's decision.  Just when the excitement seems to be over, there is a commotion and out of seemingly nowhere the Mirror Dragon appears after over 500 years of absence.   The Dragon chooses Eon and chaos breaks forth.  Eon is treated like a lord and is moved to the palace to begin her brand new role as the Mirror Dragoneye. Eon is at a very sever disadvantage as she has no one to teach her the Mirror Dragonye's ways...since there has not been one in so long.  To help her at court she is assigned the Lady Dela, a Contraire, which is a person born one gender who lives as another.  In this case Dela was born male, but lives as a female.  In some parts of the world this is a sacred position as they are thought to possess two souls, one male and one female, in other parts it is seen as an oddity and worse.  Ryko is Dela's body guard and is a eunuch, as are most of the Emperor's body guards.  Now we start to get a feel for the political state of this world.  At the moment the sickly Emperor rules with his heir the Prince Kygo learning and maturing until it is his time to take over.  There is a catch however, the Emperor's brother Sethon, a decorated general, has plans to take over and has enlisted the ambitious Lord Ido to help.  Eon, especially after meeting the Prince, essentially decides to use her new powers to help the Emperor and his son.  There is a small problem though...Eon can't use the power of her dragon.  She should have learned her dragon's name when they bonded, to call it and use it's power...but so far...nope.  Lord Ido discovers that not only can Eon not use her dragon, but that she is actually Eona.  He uses this to try and control her.  Eon eventually tells Dela and Ryko who she really is, at first causing a rift, then later a deeper understanding of each other.  The Emperor dies, a whole bunch of crazyiness ensues and Eona discovers that the Mirror Dragon is actually a female, the only female of 12 dragons and the reason that she had disappeared for so long as no female candidates were presented...stupid boys lol.  Anyways...the crew discovers that Lord Ido has a plan to control all the dragons instead of just his own.  To this end he kills all of the other Dragoneyes and their apprentices, plunging the celestial realm into chaos.  Eona tell's the Prince who she really is and after some understandable anger he is convinced to go into hiding to protect his legacy.  Sethon appears and starts a wholesale slaughter of the royal family, including the Prince's mother and infant brother.  Eona runs into Ido, who tries to force a union with her to finally consolidate all the power in himself.  With the help of Dela and Ryko, Eona finally realizes that as the keeper of Truth her dragon needs her to be honest with who she is to truly unleash her power.  This revelation finally bonds Eona to the Mirror Dragon and she is able to break Ido down and escape with Dela and Ryko.  The story ends with the trio making their escape, hoping to find the Prince and defeat Sethon.  Eona learns to accept herself and now needs to learn to control her dragon's power.  And we now we have to hurry up and read the next book!  This is not even a billionth of the important things going on in this book, but hopefully it's enough to give you a bit of the flavor.
World Building - This world was pretty cool.  It was definitely inspired by Asian culture, and yet it was original and wholly it's own entity.  It was complete with it's own customs, laws, government, society and culture.  It is a I guess you would call it medievalish era, maybe a bit more modern time period with both practical and magic elements as part of the natural world. I was easily able to immerse myself in the world and felt like I mostly understood how everything worked.  This is the kind of world I can see myself going back and visiting over and over.  It has parts that are familiar and identifiable and parts that are completely new and they meld beautifully.  Very happy with the world building.

Story - Somebody compared this story to ones told by Tamora Pierce...who is one of my favorite YA novelists, so that got me excited.  I totally understand the comparison and it is a good one.  The story was complex without being overly stuffed, the various story lines were clear and all melded into each other in a way that made sense.  I wanted to keep reading the story, I wanted to find out what happened next, I wanted to tell the story to someone...You could totally see this story becoming a legend that got told over and over in this world it was set in.  It had all the elements that a good story wants, we had conflict, we had battles, we had personal moments, we had friendships, we had romances, we had difficulties to overcome, we had DRAGONS!  Loved the story.

Character - The characters were pretty much awesome.  Eon/Eona was not perfect, but she was also not overly bitchy, or overly tough, she was just a person who kept getting thrown into circumstances out of her control and it wasn't until she took charge of her self and accepted herself did she gain any control.  In fact that seems to be a theme with the characters in this book.  They were all varied and all had various motives for what they did, they were all layered and wonderfully complex without being ridiculous, but they all had to find a way to accept themselves before they moved forward...but more on that later.  The variety and nuanced way the author dealt with the characters was fantastic.

Editing - This book is a great example of how to take multiple storylines and ideas and find a way to pare them down and fit them together to be readable.  One of my literary pet peeves is when an author has all these great ideas and tries to squash all of them into one book and the editor does nothing to try and make it coherent.  In this case, the editor seemed to take the myriad of various storylines, characters, ideas and world building and figured out how to make it eminently readable. I can't really put my finger on why this book with it's fullness was so readable, when so many who try the same thing are not, but I'm gonna go with the editor was perfectly paired with the author and regardless it makes me very very very happy.

Acceptance Of Self - This book was chock full of alternate identities/lifestyles.  Some people chose a different life, some people had it forced on them and some just needed to discover who they were.  I would say gender identity was the biggest obstacle that a lot of the main characters faced.   Keeping in mind that this is a male dominated society with gender roles pretty clearly defined and adhered too. Eon/Eona as our main character was our biggest example of this as she had to hide so much of herself both by necessity and by choice.  The choice came in as she was born female, identified female and chose to live as a male.  The necessity came in when she felt that being a boy was the only way to achieve anything of importance in her life...oh yeah and when they would kill her if it was revealed she was a girl.  Dela on the other hand was a completely different ball game.  She was born a male, but identified as female, feeling she had no choice but to live as a woman because in her heart that is what she was. I found it interesting in some places she was revered for her ability to accommodate both the male and female within herself, while other places she was reviled as an abohrasion (I can not figure out how to spell that word...hopefully you all know what I mean).  Ryko was not given a choice when he was made a enuch, and yet he has learned to live and identify as a male, regardless of his equipment, not letting it define him.  On a less definitive note we watch as Kygo has to learn to trust and believe in himself before he can become a leader.  Lord Ido has purposely squashed all empathy as to become cruel, which is what he felt he needed to succeed, and it isn't until this is restored that he in any way becomes human.   The ultimate message though was the fact that it wasn't until Eona accepted her whole self, not just the fact that she was female, but also that she was smart and capable and fallible and needed help that she was able to in any way shape or form use her Dragon's power.  I love that this was the main message and that it wasn't delivered in a preachy way, or in a tell you what to think way, or that any one way was right.  Just until you can accept and trust yourself, your not gonna get very far.

Perfect Reading Situation - Like I mentioned earlier, part of the appeal of this book is that I go to read it in the most perfect of circumstances.  I got to read it in a place that was essentially desgined to match the books mood and setting.  Couple that with the fact that I spent half of the vacation in a tub so deep I could float with a glass of wine or whisky at my fingertips while reading also helped.  I was totally stoked at how much I wanted to just sit and read this book 'cause for once I had time to do just that.  This book will forever be associated with one of my vacations of awesome.  I love it when the literary stars align and I get to add a new book to my favorite list.  It will always be one of those book associated with something very specific and something very good in my life.

YA Reading Like It Should Be - I have a love/hate relationship with YA books.  I find them to be either amazing or horrible.  It seems that a lot of YA authors want to come across as too hip and write like they have never met a real teenager before.  Sometimes the books turn into nothing but an overwrought love story, or somebodies 20 year old wish fulfillment.  THEN you get books like this, ones that address realistic teenage issues while not talking down too, or over their heads.  You also get a great story that utilizes the unique position that teenagers are in, to straddle the world of innocence and childhood, and maturity and adulthood.  Books like this make me want to shout to all the other authors THIS IS HOW YOU WRITE A BOOK FOR EVERYBODY!  Given this is targeted at the 12-16 age group, and probably geared more for the females, but seriously I can see anybody of any gender and any age reading this and enjoying it.  This is a book you read and any age...and then reread again.  Yay!

Dragons! - Have I mentioned that I love dragons?  Seriously I am a huge dragon fan, especially in books.  The dragons in this book, again were fairly well realized and integrated perfectly into the world and story.  It is very different from a lot of the standard European dragons and I love the change of pace and the little original touches that the author put in...perfection.

Overall Impression - I think it's pretty obvious that I very much enjoyed this book.  It hit all the right notes for me and it was exactly what I needed when I read it.  There are some frustrating loose ends...essentially what happened 500 years ago that made the Mirror Dragon disappear and why did everybody forget...but the good news is that there is a sequel (that I am already reading!) that promises to fill in the gaps.  I really really enjoyed this book and hopefully enjoy the next one as well.  I am now on my way to buy all the other books by this author in hopes that they are just as good.  I give it 9 out of 10 Story Robes and recommend it to pretty much anybody, but especially those who are fans of Tamora Pierce, Anne McCaffrey, Brandon Mull, Rick Riordan and the like.  Happy Reading Everybody!

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