Eon: Dragoneye Reborn
by Alison Goodman
Twelve energy dragons protect the land, each dragon linked to a human Dragoneye, who channels the dragon’s power in exchange for giving his hua, or life energy, to the dragon. The twelve dragons represent the twelve points on the compass and the twelve animals of the zodiac. Every year, one of the twelve dragons becomes the ascendant dragon. On New Years Day, twelve boys are presented to the newly ascendant dragon as candidates; the one chosen by the dragon becomes the new Dragoneye apprentice.
Eon is unusual among the candidates. Permanently crippled from a hip injury, he would normally not be eligible to be a candidate. But Eon can see the dragons – all of them – an exceedingly rare ability. Eon is unusual for another reason: Eon is really Eona, a girl. Girls are considered inferior, and not eligible to be Dragoneye candidates. If anyone were to find out that Eon is really a girl, it would mean death for her and her master, the man who discovered her and who is sponsoring her in her candidacy.
But there’s more at stake then Eon’s own future, as she soon finds herself caught up in court intrigue and power struggles for control of the empire.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is an original and fascinating fantasy which includes elements of several Asian cultures, although not based directly on any one specific culture. Gender identity is a key theme of the book, as the idea of what makes one male or female is explored throughout the book. Although the idea of a girl disguised as a boy is an old one, it’s handled well and not always in the expected ways. So effective is Eon’s deception that, even knowing that she’s female, I’m struggling with whether to use the male or female pronoun in writing this review. There is also a Contraire, a woman in the body of a man, who is revered in her own land but reviled in this one, and only tolerated because she is a guest of the Emperor. There are also many eunuchs, some with male characteristics and some with female characteristics, and herbs that can temporarily alter the Sun (male) or Moon (female) energy in a person.
I found some of the key plot points to be predictable, but it didn’t diminish my enjoyment of this well-written fantasy. Rather, I was so wrapped up in the story that I found myself shouting at Eon when I could see things that she hadn’t figured out yet. There are many fascinating characters; in addition to Eon, I especially liked Lady Dela, the Contraire, Ryko, her eunuch guard, and Chart, a crippled boy living at Eon’s master’s house, and who is her friend.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is a richly detailed fantasy that will appeal to anyone who loves stories of exotic lands, court intrigue, interesting characters, power struggles, secrets, and personal heroism. It’s the first book of duology; although the story is wrapped up in a satisfying way, there are some plot elements left unresolved.
As one would expect from a book that deals so extensively with gender, there are some mature elements (starting with the question of what is a eunuch.)
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn will be published on December 26, 2008.