Monday, May 16, 2011

Book Review- Eon

You may have noticed a few changes in my "Post Potter Reading Challenge" page as I have decided to make a change on one of the series. After reading one too many books about wizards in my search for a cure to Post-Potter depression, my brain started getting antsy. Let me explain. I decided a faster way to plow through the list in search for the cure, is to read the first book of each series, and from that, I would have a pretty good idea whether or not the entire series had potential or not. After reading the first book of The Bartimeaus Trilogy, The Chronicles of Chrestomanci, The Heir Chronicles, I began A Wizard of Earthsea. After about two chapters into A Wizard of Earthsea, I realized I my brain couldn't take another story about a boy wizard at the moment. Having read so many stories about boy wizards already, the stories began converging in my brain. While reading A Wizard of Earthsea, I was starting to think the wizard Ged was able to control demons, held a wizard stone in his chest, and had nine lives. No, no, it was just all bits and pieces from the last few wizarding boy stories I read. My head needed a change of scenery.

All these books seemed to be based in Britain and I realized I've never read a Eastern based fantasy novel. Now I've seen a ton of it in movies and animes such as Spirited Away and Mushi-shi, but never have I read a book in this particular category. I did a little research trying to find translated works of Asian fantasy series (I was thinking something like Avatar: The Last Airbender but in novel form) and was surprised to find that there isn't much selection out there. The few works I did manage to find for the most part weren't even written by an Asian person. The other funny thing, was these Asian inspired fantasy novels seemed to have suffered a bit of white-washing on their covers. Anyways, I diverge. The series I decided on (if you can even call it a series seeing it was only two books) was the Eon duo-logy. First book being Eon, and the second Eona.

I decided on Eon based off of these raving reviews I came across and the numerous awards it won, including the ALA Best Book for Young Adults. The premise sounded enticing enough for me- I was pretty giddy to get started on reading (also partly because I was just excited not to read another book about a wizard). The concept of the fantasy aspect in this novel is on the simpler side. The setting seems to be heavily inspired by ancient Chinese culture (and a bit of Japanese) but is still clearly something entirely different on its own. In this world, there are twelve dragons that exist whom hold great power. Each dragon is representative of each of the twelve animals in the Chinese zodiac (for example there is the Rat Dragon and the Rabbit Dragon), with the Dragon Dragon (also called the mirror) being the big kahuna. Every year, a dragon descends to choose a boy as their Dragoneye. When a dragon chooses their Dragoneye, the existing Dragoneye for that particular dragon steps down to be replaced by his apprentice, and the recently selected boy becomes the new apprentice. This cycle gives each boy an apprenticeship for twelve years until the next time his dragon descends, in which at that moment he becomes the new Dragoneye for the next twelve years- in all it's 24 years of duty. The significance of a Dragoneye is that he can use the power of the Dragon, which is used to quell natural disasters and so fourth, in the service of their emperor. One important aspect of their "covenant" is the Dragoneyes may not use their power for war or as a weapon.

The focus character of our story is Eon, a poor cripple who was working in the harsh environment of the salt mines, until found by a former Dragoneye who discovers Eon's unique ability to see the energy world (this energy is referred to as Hua) including the dragons which are typically invisible to people. The only problem is Eon is actually Eona and she's a sixteen year old girl. Girls are strictly forbidden to learn the art of harness the power of the dragon because they supposedly lack the strength and knowledge. Eona's master, desperate to be saved from the poor house takes a gamble and saves Eona from the salt mines and turns her into Eon and begins to train her to act like a boy so she may enter training to become a Dragoneye apprentice. The risk of being discovered would mean certain death.

The particular year in which Eon runs to become the Dragoneye apprentice is the year of the Rat Dragon. The current Rat Dragon apprentice, who is about to ascend as the new Dragoneye, is the cra-cra, power thirsty Lord Ido. The day of the dragon ascending ceremony turns out to be an interesting turn of events. The Rat Dragon makes his appearance but inadvertently, does not end up picking Eon. Heavily laden with shame and disappointment, Eon begins to treck away from the sight of the ceremony, when another dragon makes its way down. This dragon is significantly larger than the other dragons and is the obviously leader of the pack. It becomes clear that this dragon is the great Mirror Dragon, who dissapeared 500 years ago for some unknown reason. Seeing that their is no incumbent Mirror Dragoneye apprentice, Eon automotically becomes the new Dragoneye. This puts her in a strange predicament, seeing she has no training and is now under the close watching eye of the entire kingdom. Eon begins her struggle to find her identity as both a boy and the Dragoneye Lord Eon, while at the same time, she realizes she cannot call upon the power of her dragon for an unknown reason, and obvious trouble is brewing afoot as there is a split in loyalties among the Dragoneye council.

About 10% into the book, I found myself completely engrossed and aching the continue reading when I was stuck at work. It wasn't so much I was blown away by a top notch, creatively written story, it was more so I just I always felt a need to know what happens. As an audience member, you are constantly worry about the well being of Eon's physically and mentally, as she pushes herself further and further away from the girl Eona, she buried deep within herself. It seemed like instead of just masquerading as a boy, Eon was actually trying to become a boy- which I didn't really like. It's clear the physicality of being a girl is what she hates most about herself. One particular character in the book, Lady Dela, is a palace Contraire- a man who dresses and acts like a woman. While privately speaking to her one evening, Eon gruffly asks her why she would ever choose to be a woman. Sometimes I felt like she acted too much like a guy (seeing the book is written from her perspective) and as a female reader, you may find it harder to connect with her.

One thing I wondered about while reading, was how much of this story is actually based off of factual ancient China? I never heard of the eunuchs being used as imperial soldiers in order to create army's of giants, but I Googled that and apparently it's true. It's obvious Ms. Goodman did plenty of research for this novel in terms of ceremonies and traditions, but I felt like she could have used a culture consultant in some parts. I found her writing to be not bad, but not good either. It was certainly isn't briskly written but it's paced fast enough for the short attention spanned readers out there.

This story is probably one of the simpler story lines to follow in terms of fantasy, but it's different. Of you find yourself stuck reading about 12-year old British wizard boys, this book might be a nice change of pace for you. I didn't quite find what I was looking for in the Eon series. Though the use of the dragons was an interesting source of the magic and fantasy elements in this series, it wasn't quite enough for me. I was hoping for more Eastern fairytale elements like spirits, demons and talking animals. Regardless, I don't regret coming across these books because they were enjoyable reads. I can guarantee you that they won't make my list of Post Potter Depression cures, but I still recommend it as a read. By the way, if you're wondering why I haven't gotten around to reviewing any of the other vying candidates, I promise I will get to it eventually. In the meantime, look out for my review of Eona!

Final Score 8/10

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