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.