Tuesday, March 6, 2012
Book Review: Eon by Alison Goodman
So, Eon and Eona, which were first published in Australia as The Two Pearls of Wisdom and The Necklace of the Gods, are set in a pseudo-ancient-Chinese fantasy world in which the country is led and protected by the Emperor and a group of men known as the Dragoneyes. The Dragoneyes have magical powers given to them by one of the 12 dragons (each named for a Chinese zodiac animal) in exchange for some of their own life force. Every year, a new dragon and Dragoneye becomes the leader of the group, and the dragon chooses a new apprentice.
This year, one of the potential apprentices is a lame boy called Eon. By the way, the names of the characters are all over the place - Eon, Dillon, Lord Ido, Baret - maybe the author was trying to make the point that despite the general setting, this is not a straight-on version of historical China with magic added. For me, it was slightly annoying. Back to the story though, Eon is lame, and as we very quickly gather, also happens to be a girl. Dragoneyes have always been men, but Eon's master saw that she had a remarkable ability to commune with the Dragon spirits, and decided to try, despite the likelihood of death should their deception be discovered. There is an awkward romance story woven into an overarching palace intrigue/usurpation plot, and a bit of self-discovery along the way. About par for the course in young adult fantasy. That's about all the plot I really want to give away so as not to hinder your enjoyment of the book.
So, as far as transgender themes go, the title character, Eon, is a girl who has been trying very hard to act like a boy and hide her "feminine problems" from everyone else. There is a hint of the inner conflict, but with so much invested (i.e. her very life) in trying to be a boy, she sees the feminine in herself as a weakness. Those of us who are TG but still in the closet can certainly understand the constant stress of hiding one's true self. Interestingly, a supporting character in the books, Lady Dela, is a out transwoman, who is a member of the imperial court, and came as part of a tribute or gift from the leader of her lands. Although the author is Australian, Lady Dela seems to be modeled after the Native American "two-spirit" transwomen who in some tribes were considered magical, like medicine men. I found her form of transgendered living interesting. She obviously identified as a woman and preferred to be seen as such, but when needed, she "disguised" herself as a man, and used her male strengths to her advantage. The complications her gender brings to matters of love is written with a poignant authenticity.
The story is not particularly original for Asian fantasy world adventures, but it is mostly an interesting and pretty quick read. The quality of the writing isn't great, but it's ok for the Young Adult category. There's a surprising amount of graphic violence for the category, but maybe I'm just out of touch with current standards. It didn't seem particularly gratuitous, so I wasn't particularly bothered, just surprised in places.
My overall recommendation is to get it if you are into asian-inflected fantasy. If you aren't sure, it's at least worth a trip to the library to read through a little bit before deciding.
Thanks to Sally at Bibrary Book Lust for bringing this series to my attention!