Review: Eona

Eona: The Last Dragoneye, The Sequel to Eon by Alison Goodman. Penguin Books. 2011. Performed by Nancy Wu. Brilliance Audio 2011.

The Plot: Eona takes up where Eon left off (so, if you haven’t read Eon yet, spoilers!):  High Lord Sethon has declared himself Emperor and his nephew, Kygo, the rightful Pearl Emperor, is missing. Eona no longer disguises herself as a boy, and is openly Eona, the Mirror Dragoneye. Lord Ido, the only living Dragoneye, has been jailed by Sethon because he murdered the other Dragoneyes in a failed bid to seize power for himself. Eona, along with her trusted friends Ryko and Lady Dela, is with the rebels fighting against Sethon and for Kygo, wherever he may be.

The problem is, some people cannot trust Eona after the whole “lying about being a boy” thing.  And since Eona cannot control her power, and causes damage because of that — well, again, people aren’t trusting her. Her idea to free Lord Ido from Sethon’s jail so he can teach her how to use her dragon power is met with skepticism by all. The thing is, are people right not to trust Eona? Where do her loyalties lie? Is she on the side of Kygo and the rebels? Is she only interested in her own power as Mirror Dragoneye? Or is there something else she’s fighting for?

The Good: I’m trying not to give away all the twists and turns and reveals of Eona, but wowza! Goodman does some masterful plotting and fancy footwork, with just the right mix of being able to surprise me but when I look back at earlier chapters, I nod, seeing clues to what will come. Eon had a few twists — Eon’s a girl, the long-lost Mirror Dragon, returns, and it turns out that dragon is a female which explains its bonding with Eona. Comparing the turns and surprises in Eon to those in Eona is like comparing the rides at the local boardwalk to those at DisneyWorld. The boardwalk is fun and has the ocean, but DisneyWorld, is, well, DisneyWorld. Eona has twists and plot developments that made me sit up and go “woah.” I don’t want to say too much about them, because since I enjoyed the roller coast ride of Eona largely unspoiled, I want to preserve that for other readers.

What can I say?

Ido is an interesting villian; when I listened to the audio, Ido sounded like Alan Rickman as Severus Snape. Ido is power hungry, has killed (or arranged the killings of) many, tormented his apprentice to madness, yet, somehow, there is something bad-boy-appealling about him. What appealls is not that Ido has done bad, bad things; it’s that Ido is honest about his own intentions and priorities. He wants power, period. And, in a way, how can one condemn Ido when the background story is a power struggle between Sethon and Kygo? Why is it better for Kygo to want power? Is it really alright to say or believe, it’s OK for Kygo to want to be Emperor because of birth but it’s not OK for Ido to want it because he’s not of noble birth?

The issue of power is one that Goodman paints in shades of gray. Eona wants Ido to teach her how to control her power, and he tempts her with the possibilities of what she can do with her power. While Eona wonders whether she should be selfish and pursue her power for individual gain, or be unselfish and dedicate herself and her power to the Empire (as represented by Kygo), the reader wonders at who in Eona’s world has power, who does not, and what it means. As Emperor, Kygo cannot be physically touched by such people as the doctor who seeks to heal him. Such a touch could result in a death sentence for the healer! Decorum dictates who bows to whom, how low to bow — and all these things, all this showing of respect, all this manifestations of power are not directly questioned (this is not a “and then there was a revolution for Democracy” book, but then, fantasy kingdom stories rarely end that way) but they are questioned in how Eona interacts with her own power, the power of a Dragoneye. Eona’s power — like Kygo’s — is a mixture of heritage and chance.

Speaking of Kygo, I should point out that three is an interesting number: Ido, Eona, Kygo. Eona has complex, mature feelings for both; she is attracted to things about both men, and the tension between the three of them is delightful. Eona’s relationship with Ido is tied to issues of power, of control, of knowledge, and it’s not so much that she wants him as she wants to know more about the things he knows. Kygo observes this and sees it as Eona wanting Ido, and I was entertained at the young Emperor, who can have anything (well, except his Empire because of his evil uncle), being jealous of Ido and Eona’s relationship.

One last thing about how powerful Eona is; I’ve written this much, yet there is still so much more I could write about it.The gender politics, for instance, could be an entire post, with Lady Dela as a contraire (a
“twin soul,” with the body of a man and the spirit of a woman), Eona’s masquerade as a man,the eunochs at court, the “blossom women” (geishas).

Review: Eon

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn by Alison Goodman. Penguin Books. 2008. Reviewed from audiobook by Brilliance Audio provided by Brilliance Audio. 2008. Narrated by Nancy Wu.

The Plot: Eon is a twelve year old boy. He has been training intensively for years to get the opportunity, along with a handful of other boys, to be selected by a magical dragon, thus becoming a Dragoneye. Sword work is difficult, because of an accident years ago that left Eon lame. Eon is gifted with magical gifts, able to see energy and dragons. He and the master who discovered him as a slave on a salt farm believe that these gifts will be enough to have the Rat Dragon choose Eon.

Eon has a secret. Eon is actually Eona, a sixteen year old girl.

Eon’s world is one with strict laws and beliefs about class and gender. A female Dragoneye? Ridiculous! Discovery means death. How far will Eon’s charade go? And who else will be swept into the intrigue?

The Good: Goodman creates a complex world, the Empire of the Celestial Dragons, with references to Chinese astrology and mythology. Dragons are real; the twelve Dragons each has an Dragoneye and each Dragoneye has an apprentice. Every twelve years, a dragon chooses a new apprentice, the former apprentice becomes a Master, and the old Master retires. The relationship between the Dragons and their Dragoneyes are complex; it takes those twelve years for the chosen boy to master the skills and gain the stamina needed to interact with the dragon and control it’s powers. The Dragon council work to serve the land, preventing natural disasters. They are supposed to be removed from politics, but as Eon/Eona soon learns, some Dragoneyes pursue power at any cost.

What to tell without revealing whether Eon is chosen as a Dragoneye? Well, the book is called Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. She gets what she desires, but not quite in the way she planned. Her masquerade gets more intense and complicated as the game escalates, and lies build upon lies. Eon’s game is simple: one of survival. She didn’t seek this out — her master bought her, and if she fails him, he can sell her, send her back to the salt farms. While she didn’t seek this life out, Eon quickly realizes she has a role to play, and an important one. How she embraces that, while juggling her lies, is fascinating. What is the right answer? Should she reveal her true self?

Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is also an interesting look at gender and gender roles. Eona hides herself as Eon to gain opportunities barred from women. She muses on how learning how to be a boy is much more than wearing trousers. Eunuchs also play a role; and a major character is a Contraire, a man who lives as a woman. The Emporor has concubines. Class and rank also matter; and some implications are deadly. Part of the reason that political intrigue and danger exists is that the present Emperor did not follow protocol. When becoming Emperor, he should have executed all his younger brothers. He did not, and one of those brothers, Sethon is now a threat — a threat with power, because the trusting Emperor made his brother Commander in Chief of the Armies.

If you don’t like spoilers…. don’t read the title of the sequel!