Eon by Alison Goodman has been published as both an adult and a young adult novel in different parts of the world. This novel has received several awards and honors: it is the winner of the Aurealis Award, an ALA Best Book for Young Adults, a Locus Recommended Reading Selection, a James Tiptree, Jr., Award Finalist, a CBCA Notable Book, and a Bank Street College Best Book of the Year. It has also been published under several different titles: Eon, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and The Two Pearls of Wisdom. A sequel, Eona, was just released this week. This conclusion to the story is also known as Eona: Return of the Dragoneye and The Necklace of the Gods.
Every twelve years, one of the twelve energy dragons becomes ascendant, and the Dragoneye for that dragon steps down to be replaced by his apprentice. At the same time, a new apprentice is chosen by the energy dragon from among twelve candidates and the cycle continues. No one understands the reasoning behind the dragon’s choice of a new boy to replace the old one, who uses the power to control the earth in ways such as preventing earthquakes and monsoons. In exchange for this power, much of the man’s Hua, or energy, is depleted by the end of his 24-year bond with his energy dragon.
It is nearing the end of training for the candidates who will appear before the Rat Dragon, the keeper of ambition. The boy considered least likely to be chosen is Eon, a cripple who is only in consideration due to his very rare gift. It is not very often that a person can see one energy dragon, but Eon can see all of them except for the Mirror Dragon, who has been missing for 500 years. However, Eon and his master are playing a very dangerous game in the quest to make him the Rat Dragon apprentice – for Eon is actually not a twelve-year-old boy but Eona, a sixteen year old girl. If it is discovered that a girl has the audacity to try to become a Dragoneye, she will be killed according to the law, which forbids females from attaining this position. Yet not being chosen is also hazardous since Eona’s master will no longer have a use for her and she may end up sold to a new master, or worse. So Eona has to hope she is chosen and can keep her identity secret while serving as an apprentice and eventually Dragoneye.
While it’s a fairly simple story with some predictable moments, I found Eon thoroughly engrossing and could hardly get myself to put it down once I was about 20% of the way through it. It was a very fun story set in a fascinating world, and it also had two story elements that I personally tend to like: an Asian-influenced setting and a lot of emphasis on gender roles in society.
That said, it should come as no surprise that what I enjoyed most about the book was the world-building and the culture. Eon is set in a patriarchal, Asiatic land that uses the magic of the twelve energy dragons for the common good – to keep earthquakes at bay or prevent flooding, for example. While the Dragoneye united with a dragon is quite powerful, it’s not power gained without sacrifice. By the end of the 24 years the Dragoneye spends with the dragon, he is quite weary and seems much older than his years. Only males are considered worthy of learning this magic:
Women have no place in the world of the dragon magic. It is said they bring corruption to the art and do not have the physical strength or depth of character needed to commune with an energy dragon. It is also thought that the female eye, too practiced in gazing at itself, cannot see the truth of the energy world. [pp. 2]
Of course, we know immediately that this is not true due to Eona’s rare gift of being able to see all the energy dragons that are still accounted for (since one of them went missing 500 years ago). Part of the fun is realizing this while everyone else other than Eona and her master remain oblivious to the fact that a woman has the sight that could change everything.
Although her situation was interesting to read about and I liked her well enough, I didn’t love Eona as a character. Even though the entire book was told from her first person perspective, I never really felt like I understood Eona all that well beyond the surface level. She had fears about being discovered to be a female, and rightly so, since this knowledge would lead to her death. Also, she had faced a lot of hatred from others due to the fact that she was a cripple. It was clear that Eona had a kind heart. In a lot of ways, she was the ultimate underdog since the odds were so against her and I had sympathy for her because of these but I never really had an affinity with her because of who she was. Throughout the entire book, I felt like I wanted to see Eona succeed because she’d had it so rough and not because she felt like a real character to me. Also, there were some occasions when she didn’t seem particularly bright, although I have some mixed feelings on whether or not she should have known better. Without spoiling the plot, I’ll just say that part of me thinks it makes sense that she acted the way she did due to the culture she was raised in and the beliefs that had been presented to her for her entire life. The other part of me thinks she should have seen the situation and had a better realization of what was going on.
In spite of the fact that I didn’t love Eona, there was one character I found very compelling, Lady Dela. Lady Dela is a Contraire, a man with a woman’s spirit. In the tribe she comes from, Lady Dela is considered fortunate due to this dual male and female energy, although some at court do not see her that way at all. She’s also very helpful, knowledgeable about the happenings in court, and seems rather wise. It’s an interesting contrast to Eona, who is lucky enough to have both small hips and a small chest and has learned to act like a boy. In some ways she feels like a boy, but there are certain scenes that show she’d like to be more feminine such as when she tries on some of Lady Dela’s jewelry when no one is around. Most of the other characters were not terribly memorable, although I did still like Ryko (Lady Dela’s bodyguard) and the prince. The main villain was a bit too evil without any good qualities for my taste. However, part of me also felt that made sense since he was the Dragoneye for the dragon associated with ambition. His ambitions seemed to have overwhelmed all else.
There were some infodumps that slowed down the pace. The first two pages were all details about the energy dragons and the Dragoneyes. Yet I found these sections didn’t really bother me since I found the world truly interesting and did really want to know how it worked.
The ending did bother me a little bit just because there were some problems that were too easily solved by magic. It certainly wasn’t a deal-breaker since I still enjoyed this book a great deal, but certain issues were resolved more quickly and suddenly than I would have liked.
Even though I felt it had some flaws – infodumping, characters who were not fully fleshed out, and a dash of magic-makes-it-better syndrome – I really loved reading Eon. The world, the exploration of the topic of gender, and culture were the highlights, and the tension in the story about whether or not anyone would discover Eona’s secret kept me fully immersed to the point where I did not want to stop reading it. I’ll definitely be reading Eona and most likely sometime soon – because I still really want to know what happens next!
My Rating: 7.5/10
Where I got my reading copy: I bought it (because I got the sequel from the publisher).