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.