a review by Nalini Haynes
Eon has been taken away from his family by a master who intends to train him to be a Dragoneye, a person who psychically a person who psychically links with a dragon to protect the land. All Dragoneyes are men but Eon is a crippled eunuch. Rapidly ensnared by court politics, Eon’s strongest motivation is for survival in this world inspired by ancient China and Japan.
I really enjoyed Eon so I’m tempted to go the ol’ ‘JUST READ IT’ path, but Eon is a book of substance, engaging with real issues in the course of the narrative so I’ll do my best to do Eon justice while also not giving away spoilers.
While Eon engages with real issues, there is never any hint of a lecture or exposition; the story is engaging, the issues are an integral part of the plot and the characters, both carrying the reader forward. As soon as I finished Eon I started part II, Eona, the sequel. The only reason I’m writing this review now is because my kindle died. Flat battery. -_- This is a sure sign that I’m engaged with the plot and characters. Also, the story is FINISHED. There’s no waiting for the end, here, people! (Pet peeve: cliff-hanger endings and waiting.)
First and foremost throughout the book are gender issues. Eona has been forced to hide her female identity, masquerading as a male to gain advantage. Her master stands to gain income if his candidate is selected to link with a dragon; failure means Eona will probably return to the salt farm to live a short, hard life and die young. The masquerade is almost more important than success because beginning the masquerade is a perilous step whose punishment could be brutal, even fatal.
Having played a boy for four years, Eona starts to question her identity as a young woman, wondering if she truly is male in spirit. Narrative therapy is a high-recognised form of cognitive therapy where clients’ self-perceptions are reshaped by reinforcing alternate stories about themselves. A person who’s been told repeatedly that she’s a failure will perceive herself to be a failure; if told she’s male and forced to live as a male, she could well come to struggle with her feminine side just like Eona. Eona’s feminine side has been over-written for four years, her female identity obliterated with severe punishment for any slips. Thus she has come to devalue women as does her society, and to devalue her female identity, preferring her male masquerade. This aspect of Eona’s self-image is explored as she walks the knife-edge of court politics while seeking to bond with her dragon.
Eon meets Lady Dela, a ‘contraire’: a man living as a woman, valued as special in her own culture but demonised by some in the Celestial Court. Eon wonders if she is a mirror of Lady Dela, a woman who lives as a male by choice, and yet Eon slips up when accidentally given an opportunity to peruse Dela’s feminine accessories.
Ryko is a eunuch guard who takes Eon out one night, telling the guards that they are going to the ‘red’ quarter. Eon is surprised because everyone thinks she’s a eunuch too, but Ryko says that there’s ‘more than one way to skin a cat.’ This subtle reference to non-traditional sexual relationships is an eye-opener for Eon and perhaps for many readers. This is certainly a different twist on relationships, contrasting with Lady Chatterley’s Lover. Ryko’s relationship with Lady Dela is almost a sub-plot throughout the novel; hints of their feelings are evident to Eon, through whose eyes the story is told.
The ‘alternative’ relationship – or potential relationship – between Lady Dela and Ryko is not common for a young adult novel. It’s very tastefully crafted, with acceptance coupled with curiosity from Eon. Eon’s curiosity is natural considering she’s never encountered a ‘contraire’. Eon’s engagement with Lady Dela, Ryko and their relationship serves as a counterpoint to Eon’s own journey of self-realisation.
Slavery is a another social issue explored within the narrative but to a lesser extent. Eon was a slave on a salt farm before being acquired by her master and forced to masquerade as a boy. She remains a slave until the choosing ceremony but does not feel free even after. Rilla is a slave and body servant to Eon’s master before becoming Eon’s slave. I can’t say much more about the slavery issue without spoilers so I’ll leave it there.
Likewise there is an attempted rape and aftermath from that incident, but to say much about this would be a huge spoiler. I mention it here because it is a potential trigger. Goodman handled this incident, the aftermath and the relationship involved very well, both the outward and internal aspects. I suspect there are more ripples from this incident to come in Eona.
Disability is explored through Eon’s disability: her hip was broken, rendering her lame. She is despised by many because being disabled is considered bad luck; Eon is greeted by people making signs to ward off evil regularly until she’s chosen by the dragon. Chart, Rilla’s son, has a disability: based on Goodman’s descriptions, he appears to have cerebral palsy. Those who discount Chart see only a stupid cripple but those who take the time to get to know him understand his intelligence, his humour and his caring nature. Chart’s life as a cripple living mostly on a mat in the kitchen, cared about by a very few people who’ve taken the time to see past his difficulties, speaks eloquently of this society while revealing the natures of Eon‘s characters.
I have only one criticism of Eon and that is with regards to one facet of the conclusion of the novel. As this would be a spoiler and I’ve already started reading Eona, I’ll leave that comment for the next review.
Eon is a must-read; it’s one of those rare books whose plot carried me forward, racing to the end, anticipating developments for characters to whom I’ve become attached. Along the way, Eon provides food for thought; it’s no fluffy read, no equivalent to fairy floss; Eon is a delicious, nutritious, almost satisfying Chinese meal. Almost satisfying because I need Eona to complete the banquet.
That is all.
I’m off to read Eona. My kindle should have recharged by now.