Archive for April, 2016

Premise: Eona, a sixteen year old girl, disguises herself as a boy to become a dragoneye, a deception that, if discovered, would forfeit her life. But her dangers are only beginning, as she steps into the complex, political world of the emperor.

Why I Picked It Up: Lots of reviewers raved about this YA Fantasy’s unique Asian culture and worldbuilding, so I had to check it out. I was intrigued by the first chapter—the first couple of chapters are quite engrossing.

4 Thoughts : (1) Despite the tension in the narrative, I found the first half of the book rather dull. Maybe the audiobook would have picked up the pace, but the meticulous worldbuilding and details slowed the plot and characterization waaaaaaay down, in the hard copy. The plot is great, when it finally picks up in the second half of the story. (After the first few chapters of setup, I kept expecting it to pick up…it didn’t until the second half. It stayed very slow.) I loved the magic of the dragons and Eon’s swords, for the twenty or so pages near the end that explored them. I just wish there had been more–a LOT more–of it in this book. This was almost more of a prequel to the real story. It would have gone a lot faster if (*pet peeve alert*) Eona had just TALKED to someone about her problems. If she had talked to her friends, the plot would have moved much more quickly. It also might have helped stir things up if we had dropped into someone else’s head, once in awhile, particularly if that someone was regularly hanging out with the dragons.

(2) The author certainly did develop a unique Asian Fantasy world—it’s far more detailed than your average YA. I think the publisher must have classified it as YA solely based on the coming-of-age theme and the protagonist’s age. It felt more like adult fiction, in a lot of ways, including,

(3) how the author used the full potential of her book’s gender-hiding plot to explore themes of gender confusion. I respect the no-holds-barred approach, but in this case, it felt weirdly sexual and physically-aware, for YA. Along with all the physical clichés (every touch between two people feels intimately charged, a problem that runs wild in YA debuts), there were lots of eunuchs, a transgender dating one of the eunuchs, sexual assault and other kinds of assault, lecherous old men pining over young, helpless women, and all kinds of weird, really weird stuff for YA.

I think when adult reviewers give this book 4 & 5 stars, they’re forgetting it’s supposed to be for teenagers. The Alanna the Lioness series by Tamora Pierce does the gender-bender theme with a much closer eye to her audience—everything isn’t sexual. Sometimes, guys and girls are just friends. Sometimes, they flirt and it’s a passing fancy. Not every man is out to attack every woman (although there are scenes that address sexual violence in Pierce’s books; but the majority of men are not sexual predators). I think it’s a bad idea to portray to teenagers that no man is trustworthy unless he’s mentally ill, castrated or transgender). The atmosphere surrounding these topics, in Eon, was quite jarring for YA—it would have felt much more at home in adult fiction. In fact, except for the physical clichés and the first person narration, this novel felt exactly like adult fiction. It was much closer to Octavia Butler’s Wild Seed than to Pierce’s Lioness quartet. I’m not saying it was bad, I’m just saying it was jarring.

(4) The author didn’t explore much of Eona’s interior landscape. I understand that Eona is terrified out of her wits and understandably secretive. But anybody would be. What about her feelings and her personality strengths/faults? There was no room to linger over her thoughts and feelings, what with all the plotting, thematizing and worldbuilding. And for all their variety of sexual orientations, the rest of the cast fell flat, for me. Their personalities were all very similar. They felt stilted and stifled, probably due to the first-person narration. (Here, again, is another reason why adding in another persepctive–or even putting this in third-person–might have improved the book: it would have lifted us a little out of Eona’s stifling depression made the worldbuilding seem less “telly.”)

Overall: This book won all kinds of honors and awards. I attribute that entirely to the unique, meticulous worldbuilding—you don’t get an Asian Fantasy like this every day. But all the other aspects combined so that I didn’t end up enjoying it very much. I know this sounds really harsh, but I’m just being honest.

Continue the Duology?: Since it’s a duology—and the reviews say book II overcomes the plot drag—I will probably read it, at some point.

Recommendation: This book might work for anyone who wants some phenomenal worldbuilding and is feeling patient with every other aspect of story. I don’t know about age group. I would say older teens—I don’t think a younger reader will willingly drag him or herself through 200+ pages of worldbuilding to get to the goods in the second half. I’m not trying to talk down to the genre, here—trust me, I love YA. But when I was a teen, I would never have finished Eon. I would recommend parents and teens skip this one and try Kristin Cashore’s fantasies or Tamora Pierce’s Tortall universe series instead, if they’re looking for good worldbuilding and strong female characters. The worldbuilding throughout Pierce’s and Cashore’s books is phenomenal and the stories are much faster-paced and age-targeted. I loved those books, as a teen. I didn’t read Garth Nix’s Abhorsen books until I was older, but they are also worth noting for teens.

***3/5 STARS

 

Premise: Anyanwu cannot be killed and Doro cannot die. When Anyanwu is chosen by Doro as his companion, she agrees to his breeding plans only to keep him from hurting her children. But Doro ends up needing more than just Anyanwu’s unusual gene pool to bring new meaning to his 4,000+ years of life. Historical Fantasy published in 1980 by multiple Hugo and Nebula award winning author Octavia E. Butler.

Why I Read This Book? Blame this quote: “[Doro] wandered southwest toward the forest, leaving as he had arrived–alone, unarmed, without supplies, accepting the savanna and later the forest as easily as he accepted any terrain. He was killed several times–by disease, by animals, by hostile people. This was a harsh land” (pg. 3).

About:  This book is a love story (although sometimes, I thought it was turning into a hate story) that spans ages of time and two different continents. Because of this, the atmosphere and settings change drastically throughout the course of the novel. But the fantasy component makes this book a power story, also. The long-lived protagonists seek out other people with unusual, inheritable powers (like mind-reading or healing abilities) and work to develop these powers through opposing methods (force vs cultivation). The inherited powers often drive their users mad, and the two protagonists react differently to this eventuality.

Themes: I don’t usually talk about themes, in my book reviews, because who cares? But this novel is so heavy, it would be pointless to write a review without exploring them. It explores some common themes like the redemptive power of love; several specifically African themes, like the brutality and preciousness of life in pre-modern Africa and in the slave trade; it also examines more specifically American themes like race relations throughout our country’s history–but in a unique way, not just from the modern African-American perspective, but from the very powerful, very African perspectives of Doro and Anyanwu; and several more modern themes like the fluidity of gender. They are complex and interesting—Butler does not preach at us, in this novel.

And best of all, she manages all this in a tense, moving narrative.

The Cover & The Atmosphere: That first cover disturbs me, but it does accurately reflect the weirdness of this novel. The story and characters feel ancient, even barbaric. I had trouble relating to Anyanwu and Doro because they were so strong and other-worldly. There is a strong animal presence in them because they lived for centuries in the premodern times where survival was the virtue.

Overall: Read it! Seriously, this book is completely unique.

P.S., Trigger Warnings: There’s some weird sexual stuff in this novel—several historically-realistic depictions of sexually or physically abusive relationships, including incest. It’s really a beautiful story, but just FYI.

*****5/5 STARS

Click the covers to read my quick, unblogged Goodreads reviews! Scroll down to see my April TBR.

Ranger’s Apprentice #2: The Burning Bridge

The_Burning_Bridge

Ranger’s Apprentice #3: The Icebound Land

Icebound Land

The Nations Within: The Past and Future of American Indian Sovereignty

TheNationsWithin

The Anatomy of Story: 22 Steps to Becoming a Master Storyteller

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Reviews Coming in April?

Grave Mercy by Robin LaFevers, Eon by Alison Goodman & Wild Seed by Octavia Butler

Grave Mercyeon

wildseed