I had been meaning to read Australian author Alison Goodman's Eon: Dragoneye Reborn for some time, but as often happens, I had to return the paper copy after (cough) renewing it a few times, and ended up listening to the book on CD in the car. But at least I still managed to read it! The first book in a two-part series, Eon follows the story of a young girl who is plucked from the life of a salt farm drudge by a former Dragoneye looking to regain power in the Dragon Council. Dragoneyes are the magic-wielding men responsible for using the power of their zodiac-based energy dragon to control the weather and ensure the prosperity of the realm. However, Eon (actually Eona) and her master hide her sex (at the risk of execution) and present her as a candidate for the annual choosing of the Dragoneye apprentice. After being chosen by an unexpected energy dragon, Eon/a finds herself caught up against her will in a swirl of politics and intrigue as the fate of the empire rests on her shoulders. Her main adversary is the downright sinister Rat Dragoneye Lord Ido, whose ambitions seem to know no bounds.
Goodman has created a heavily East Asian-influenced kingdom in which being female means being largely powerless. In fact, the social hierarchy is so rigid that nearly all the characters are powerless in some capacity, even the seemingly all-powerful emperor's son. Class and regional conflict is a very interesting part of the narrative, but what intrigued me most was the portrayal of gender roles and sexuality. Eon/a struggles with her identity as she encourages her male energy and attempts to suppress her female energy and unite with her dragon. Lady Dela, who is a biological man who chooses to dress and live as a woman, is just freakin' cool and snarky. She also seems to [spoiler alert] be in love with the super-butch eunuch (yes, that's what I said) Ryko; we'll see how that plays out in the conclusion. The takeaway--the importance of embracing who you are rather than attempting to escape it--is a valuable one, and since it comes in a package with zodiac animals (which I have been a sucker for ever since Fruits Basket), sword fighting, imperial splendor, harem scenes, dragon magic, and cool artifacts, I am definitely on board.
One of the other interesting themes that Goodman addresses is disability. Eon/a has a lame hip and is therefore regarded as a symbol of ill fortune by many of the characters. Her good friend from her days as a trainee, Chart, is more severely deformed, but is portrayed as sarcastically clever and good friend. [Spoiler alert] I am not sure yet how I feel about her hip being healed at the end of the book, since it is such a large part of her identity for the rest of the novel. It will be interesting to see how Goodman handles that in Eona, where presumably the secret of her sex will be out in the open, so she will have that "disability" to deal with as well.
This book was also one of the more frustrating I have recently read, which is not necessarily a bad thing. It was only that my emotional involvement was such that I was actually shouting things like "don't be an idiot!" repeatedly to my car stereo. The plot points were predictable at times, but the story was a refreshing change of pace from fluffier YA lit, a lot more serious and stark and full of violence than I was expecting.
The redemption(?) of Lord Ido at the end of the book was also unexpected, given that he had up to that point been a drug-abusing, crazy-raging, homicidal, power-hungry, would-be-rapist asshole. I guess they call that character development.
Dead Mother: Not clear, maybe?
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