Plot: Eon has been training for years to be the next apprentice to the Rat Dragon, one of twelve energy dragons that protect the empire. Only he has a secret. Eon is actually Eona, a 16 year old girl. But women are forbidden from using Dragon Magic and the penalty is death. When Eona is chosen, not by the Rat Dragon, but by the long absent Mirror Dragon, she becomes embroiled in political intrigue that threatens both her life and the entire empire.
This is a wonderful, action-packed fantasy adventure. Tamora Pierce fans should definitely give Eon a chance. It is a long book, with long chapters but I barely noticed. The book is fast paced: Eona’s life is full of secrets and danger. And yet she faces the world with courage and compassion (many lies also, but I can’t blame her for that) in spite of some very nasty things that have been done to her. There is magic, fighting, political intrigue and a broiling rebellion. What more could I ask for?
Eona is great but my favorite characters were Lady Dela, a Contraire (what we would call transgendered), and her eunuch guard Ryko. No contest. They are intelligent and strong minded and very politically subtle. They help Eona a great deal. But it is their relationship with each other, something confortable and intimate that hints at deeper feelings, something that defies all conventions of YA romance, that really touched me. I hope we see a lot more of them in the second book.
There was one aspect of the book that spoiled my fun a little, however. There are about 100 to 200 pages in the book where I had alredy figured out what Eona needed to do to access her powers as Dragoneye but she had not. It was agonizing watching her make incredibly poor choices while yelling in my head “No, no! That is the opposite of what you must do!” It was irritating but I can’t call it a failing in the book as it made perfect sense for her not to know.
Goodman’s world is inspired by ancient China and, to a lesser extent, Japan. This usually worries me because I’ve rarely seen this done well. Goodman, however, uses elements of these cultures very effectively to create her system of magic and politics. I have no complaints though my favorite Asian-inspired fantasy novel remains Under Heaven by Guy Gavriel Kay.
The second book in the duology, Eona, is already available. I look forward to watching Eona and her emperor come into their power.