Saturday, May 05, 2012

Week-End's Minis XIII: Eon - Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman

As promised, this week's WEM features Eon: Dragoneye Reborn! I hope you guys enjoy my honesty! Oh, do not forget to cast your vote for next week's WEM!

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman
published by Firebird (Penguin) in June 2009
Sixteen-year-old Eon has a dream, and a mission. For years, he's been studying sword-work and magic, toward one end. He and his master hope that he will be chosen as a Dragoneye-an apprentice to one of the twelve energy dragons of good fortune. But Eon has a dangerous secret. He is actually Eona, a sixteen-year-old girl who has been masquerading as a twelve-year-old boy. Females are forbidden to use Dragon Magic; if anyone discovers she has been hiding in plain sight, her death is assured. When Eon's secret threatens to come to light, she and her allies are plunged into grave danger and a deadly struggle for the Imperial throne. Eon must find the strength and inner power to battle those who want to take her magic...and her life.
Genre: YA, Fantasy
Series: Eon/Eona duology, Book #1

What do you need to know? Eon takes place in a world that is very similar to China or at least has very strong Asian influences and which is also made of magic. The basis is Chinese astrology - each year is associated with a zodiac sign which is in turn associated with a particular dragon, in a cycle of 12 years. These dragons are elemental beings that are able to manipulate the natural energy of the world "Hua." Only certain persons called Dragoneye, chosen by the dragons themselves, can access this enormous power to help or break humanity. These persons are chosen through a rigorous process and then, a ceremony. Every New Year, 12 boys who were born on the year of the ascending dragon are presented to the dragon and one is chosen. For 12 years, that boy will be an apprentice, learning under the supervision of the Dragoneye. Once it's the zodiac year of the boy again, i.e. 12 years later, he will become Dragoneye and master, while his own master retires. For example, in the book, the zodiac year is the Rat and therefore, the ascending dragon is the Rat Dragon. Eon, the main character, is a candidate hoping to be chosen to become the apprentice to the Rat Dragon's Dragoneye. During this year, the Rat Dragon's power is at its strongest, meaning that the Rat Dragoneye will be the most powerful. However, things don't go as planned, because Eon is not chosen by the Rat Dragon... instead, he is chosen by the most powerful Dragon of all, the Mirror Dragon (technically, it's the Dragon of the year of the Dragon so I guess that's why they call it Mirror Dragon), who has disappeared for hundreds of years!

His reappearance and his choice of Eon, who's a boy with an handicap (lame leg), is surprising to say the least. None knows what should be done and the Emperor decides that Eon will be co-ascending Dragoneye along with Lord Ido, the Rat Dragoneye. What Eon learns later on is this is also a tactical move from the Emperor... Indeed, he is growing old and sickly and rumors of a coup by his own brother, General Sethon, are brewing... Especially that Lord Ido seems to have sworn allegiance to General Sethon.

However, Eon has problems of his own... or should we say, her own. Yes, Eon is a girl and technically, girls are not allowed as candidates and even less, Dragoneyes! Nobody expected Eon to be chosen by the Mirror Dragoneye and be thrusted in the spotlight. If Eon's identity is found, she as well as her master and their household will be accused of treason and that is punishable by death. In addition, while Eon has been chosen by the Mirror Dragon, her bond with the Dragon seems precarious and she has no access to its power... With Lord Ido trying to vie for power, it puts Eon in a very dangerous position and she has to figure things out... before everything is too late.

Why this book? I heard a lot of good about Eon: Dragoneye Reborn; however, I was always hesitant about it, because of the strong Asian influences on the world. I used to read a lot in Vietnamese when I was younger and from experience, I know some of the stuff just doesn't translate well in English. The language and culture are so different that some words just don't exist in English and therefore, it is not fluid. It's the same reason I have yet to read Jeannie Lin, despite the good buzz this author is getting.  In the end though, I broke down because both Mariana and Christine absolutely adore this book. Also, I do love the cross-dressing trope :P

What I liked? Overall, I can see why Mariana and Christine loved this book so much and why it is a winner for so many on Goodreads. The world building and story are both very complex and interesting. For my part,  I especially liked the secondary characters such as Lady Dela, Ryko, Prince Kygo and Rilla. How everyone gathered around Eon and supported her. Also, the writing style is good and made Eon very readable...

Also, Eona reminded me a bit of Katniss - the way both of them became the face of resistance without wanting to. I thought it was an interesting parallel, especially since Eona was playing a game as dangerous as Katniss in the end.

Unfortunately, that was pretty it for me ^_^;

Any issues? Sigh. As I said earlier in the review, I came in with some apprehension and most probably, it really influenced my reading of Eon: Dragoneye Rebon. I wished I'd been able to let go and enjoy the book as it should, but I couldn't.

First, I do think there was a lack of fluidity; however, it was subtle. I was probably over-sensitive to it, but I just can't help it. However, as I said, it was still very readable and I attribute this to Ms Goodman's talent. Also, for me, the whole palace setting, royalty and Chinese astrology was all very familiar to me. Felt some parts were very predictable.

I was also a bit disappointed with the lack of humor. I think one of the reasons I enjoy reading cross-dressing heroines so much it's because there are always some funny situations arising from it... but it definitively wasn't the case with Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. The tone is very solemn throughout the book. Also, while Eon/Eona was a very complex and interesting character, I didn't find her very likable and never really connected with her. I know her life is at stake and the circumstances are not all of her doing, but she was so focused on her, her fate... it bothered me. At this point, she has to realize that she's part of something bigger and have to act consequently. Also, because Eon/Eona had so many personal concerns and worries, it translated in many monologues and it made for a slow pacing.

This brings me to the storyline... I couldn't help but wonder how Eon and her master thought she could have spent 24 years disguised as a man?!? Even if people believed "he" was castrated, that didn't make sense for me. How complicated the logistic would be... and I felt both of them played a really dangerous game. Wouldn't it have been easier for her master to find a boy instead? Even if Eon/Eona had great potential. Also, at the end of the day, was Eona only chosen because she was female? Would any girl would have done or was Eona really chosen because she was female and had potential? Also, if I understood it correctly, the boys that are introduced as candidates have to be born in the same year of the dragon they are wooing. Therefore, they should have been 12 years old right? Then, how could Eona who is 16 years old, technically stand a chance? That was a puzzle for me as well. I felt there was a lot of holes in the concept... I know things had to be changed because Eona was a girl, but I don't understand how Eona and her master thought she stood a chance in that case.

Finally, I just didn't feel this book. I never got engrossed in it :( I know I have to shoulder part of the fault, but that's the reality at the end of the day.

My Grade? D. I originally gave it a C+ in Goodreads, but after writing this review, I wasn't honest with  myself. The truth is Eon: Dragoneye Reborn was simply not for me. I read this book with apprehension and I never felt once that I was wrong, that I should kick myself for letting my apprehension take over and make me read this book only now. Instead, reading Eon: Dragoneye Reborn only confirmed my apprehension was correct. At the end of the day, I just didn't feel it when it came to Eon: Dragoneye Reborn and unfortunately, I won't be reading the sequel.


  1. Oh wow, Nath a D? Well, you specify that the grade has a lot to do with your own perspective on Asian-based books. I understand that. I tend to have a problem with some (not all) mainstream romances that include Latino/a heroes/heroines or culture(s), and I know other readers LOVE them... yet for one reason or another they don't work for me.

    I won't recommend the latest fantasy book by Elizabeth Bear to you then -- Range of Ghosts. The world building is loosely based on both Middle Eastern and Asian cultures. It's wonderful, but maybe you won't enjoy it. :)

  2. Fascinating point on the fluidity (or lack of) that you attribute towards translating cultural subtleties from one language to the other... it makes sense.

    I liked Eon well enough, but have not been able to get into the sequel - it just didn't capture my interest. On Eon, I agree that because I had passing familiarity with Chinese astrology, there were elements that did not feel as fresh as they could have.


  3. That was me, by the way - not sure why (or how!) I've a Blogger profile!


  4. Hilcia - Yeah ^_^; I read the book, but just went through the motion. All I wanted it was to be done with it :( Like I said, I get why people enjoyed it, but for me, it didn't work.

    Nod nod, I hear you, although you made it sounded really interesting in your other post :P I'll wait for your review of it :)

    Li - Hmmm, maybe you have a blogger profile because you do have a gmail address?

    It's a problem I've encountered in both Japanese and Chinese language. The wisest is to not try to translate some words in my opinion, just give an explanations.

    You know something else I was a bit disappointed was the lack of romance. I don't expect romance in YA contemporary, but in fantasy, I do... Anyway. And as you said, the familiarity with Chinese astrology took out a bit of the originality. Like some readers would love exploring that concept, but for us? Same thing with the palace and customs...

  5. Ok, this one sounds interesting. Despite your low grade, I'm going to keep an eye out for it. :P

  6. Ah, you too? I read both this one and the sequel (I wanted to give it one more shot) because like you said, a lot of buzz. Partial same reason in terms of Jeannie Lin (although I know I'm caving and the only thing holding me back is the ebook thing). The two together both have a few good aspects and quite a few weaknesses. My problems with a lot of these books was similar to what happened with Avatar the last airbender series. The authors/writers/creators based the background, ideas, and world on Asian cultures/history and whatnot, but at the end, the stories would almost be westernized. For me, that always felt less authentic (or, ingeniune?) in the longrun. Not that they're not good or don't have merits, but as you've said, I too enter these books with a bias that was hard to suspend my disbelief. It's not just Asian based cultures though. Same issues with American Indian/Native American novels, Egyptian, etc. etc.

    I believe Marjorie M. Liu posted a link a long time ago with three different translators translating the same small paragraph and all three were different. The translators were in a panel discussing the difficulties as well as the various interpretations. I think the author would have to be fluent in the language too for a book to be 'fully' well translated, but then again, when one is desperate for a good book, any translation will do. Lol.

  7. This book sounds interesting, but I don't think it would be my cup of tea. I'm also a fan of the cross-dressing trope, so that part is what really intrigues me about this one. However, I don't think I'll be picking this one up anytime soon. Great review! :)

  8. I have had this out from the library a couple times and *still* not read it. Now I am kind of thinking it was a good thing!

  9. Ames - Ames, if you want my copy, it's yours :)

    Little Alys - It has some good stuff going on in its favor, but not enough for me to disregard the bad. Also, while it was very readable, I thought it was boring ^_^; I was expecting a lot more action and it was almost all about Eona.

    LOL, I guess that's why they say the original version is always the best :P By the way, what I find interesting in this case is that I don't think the author is Asian. I mean, her name is Alison Goodman and when I look at the picture, she seems Caucasian to me... So it's really interesting that she tackled this influence for her book...

    Samantha - Thanks Samantha :P Well guess I saved you from a read :P

    Kailana - I did that too once. I borrowed it and it sat unread. This book has won lots of literary prizes too! So it's hard for me to tell you whether you would have enjoyed it or not... Hopefully, if one day you read and love it, you won't be blaming me for not reading it earlier LOL.

  10. Aw nath, I'm sorry you didn't enjoy it. I have to admit that you were SO hesitant to begin with.. I was well prepared and practically expected you not to like it. lol!

    I should have told you it was serious and solemn and no romance. Although there is a something between Eona and the Prince in the second book.. sort of. And someone else too but I won't say. :P But it's all very tenuous.

    If you recall, Eona's master saved her when he "bought" her freedom from the salt mines.. her family already discarded her in a way.. so she was training to be a Dragoneye candidate because that's what her master told her to do. She didn't really want it deep in her heart for herself. I think she just wanted to be safe, fed and her Master kept happy. So yeah.. once she got involved as Dragoneye, she was in way over her head. In the second book, everyone is mad at her and criticize her actions, if that makes you feel better. LOL!

    Also, I don't think the Mirror Dragon chose her just because she's a female, but because she's a female dragoneye. One must be able to "see" the dragon spirits to be a candidate and a female candidate is so incredibly rare that people practically don't even believe they exist.

    The secondary characters really make this book--especially Lady Dela and Ryko.

    Maybe you shouldn't bother reading Jeannie Lin. I don't think I could handle being responsible for two really bad recommendations... :/

  11. Christine - It's okay. I tried and that's what matters :) I definitively hoped it wasn't all my attitude going into it that made me not enjoy this book ^_^;;

    I actually skimmed through the 2nd book and seriously, I really wasn't inclined to pick it up... especially with the somewhat romance with you know who. ugh.

    True, true. It's not really her fault, it's more her master. What was he thinking?!?

    Oh you're right about the "seeing" the dragon spirits. i forgot about that...

    Lady Dela and Ryko were awesome, but that was pretty it...

    And I don't think I'll be reading Jeannie Lin unfortunately. I don't think I can overcome the language barrier ^_^;