(also published as Eon, Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye, and Eon: Dragoneye Reborn)
Reviewed by Tehani Wessely (this review was first published in October 2008)
It’s been a long time since I’ve been sucked into a world so completely that I’ve read each page in breathless anticipation, unable to put the book down. When I managed to pry my eyes from the pages of award-winning author Alison Goodman’s The Two Pearls of Wisdom, it still filled my thoughts, and I counted the seconds until I could immerse myself again.
But where to start? With the utterly real and heart-wrenching characterization perhaps? The author has created a marvellously detailed world peopled with characters who are so non-stereotypical and beautifully realized that you care deeply about their lives, their decisions and their actions. This is true not just of the main character Eon/Eona, but of the supporting cast as well. You fear for Eona as she battles for her power, her life, her honour. You almost cry over her anxiety, and burst with pride at her accomplishments. It is such a powerful connection between characters and reader. The character of Eona is true to her age and experience – her uncertainty about her power, and the decisions she struggles with, are congruent with the overwhelming situation she is facing. She has such enormous responsibility thrust on her from the very beginning, holding the lives of her household in her hands, and then so much more, that her actions are believable and honest.
One of my favourite aspects of this book was the way Goodman turns traditional stereotypes around in a way that is meaningful and purposeful. The use of a female protagonist masquerading as a boy to facilitate the story and succeed in a male-dominated society is certainly not new. Tamora Pierce did it in a traditional European medieval fantasy setting two decades ago. Goodman takes this trope, shakes it up, and gives it power. Eona does not ask for any of the travails thrust upon her – she neither desires nor seeks the position she is groomed for, but she takes responsibility for attempting to reach the goal she is set. The situations this causes feel natural in the telling, never contrived or forced, and the relationships she forms along the way are realistic and genuine.
Another aspect that delighted me was the subtle undermining of traditional gender norms. Eona hides her sexuality to play the part of a boy; one of her closest confidantes is a transsexual; other protectors are eunuchs. Discussions of these alternate lifestyles are cleverly done, but frank, and may well subtly alter some perceptions held by the reader about sexuality and what it means.
Then there is the story itself, and the themes that underpin the plot. The intricately woven background is of an Eastern-type society, where the power of the twelve dragons of the calendar gain ascendancy in turn, manifesting their power through their chosen apprentice and lord. This lays the foundation of an empire which is integral to the story Eona finds herself caught up in.
Goodman’s writing is sublime. She draws together plot, character, suspense, action and theme in a gorgeous tapestry with a compelling narrative voice. Somehow, she manages to examine a complex culture, rich in ritual and ceremony, without ever overloading the reader with detail at the expense of pace. The book is essentially young adult, defined by the age of the protagonist and themes of being true to yourself, the value of honesty and perseverance, and the coming of age message. In no way do these elements preclude the enjoyment of adult readers, and the style of the story encourages it. I have not been so engrossed in a book for a very long time.
There is very little wrong with this book. Perhaps the fight scenes could have been grittier, and seasoned fantasy readers may find some elements of the plot at times slightly predictable. But these are just nit-picky points, because the whole package is so finely done, you really don’t notice them unless you are looking. And there is so much to like, why bother with the minor imperfections?
The book is not part of a series, but neither is the story complete in The Two Pearls of Wisdom. The forthcoming sequel, The Necklace of the Gods (also published as Eona and Eona: Return of the Dragoneye) will chronicle the continued adventures of Eona as she comes to grips with her power. My expectations are high. I sincerely hope the wait for the concluding volume is not too long, as I have been dazzled by Alison Goodman, and can’t wait to revisit her world.