a review by Nalini Haynes
Eona is part two of a duology by Alison Goodman. I already reviewed Eon, the first in the duology. I will now assume you’ll clicky on the linky to read Eon‘s review before Eona‘s.
Seriously, this review is written as if you’ve read the first review.
A recap of where Eon ended and Eona begins:
Eona starts where Eon left off; Eona has been outed as a girl. Lord Ido is untrustworthy but the only dragoneye left who could train Eona in how to use her powers and connect with her dragon. Sethon, half-brother to the deceased emperor, has staged a coup sending Kygo, the rightful heir, into hiding while heading up a rebellion. Eona works within the rebellion while Eona and Kygo explore their feelings for one another, testing the limits of their newfound relationship.
Ryko the eunuch and Delia the contraire (man who lives as a woman), dance around each other in a ‘will they/won’t they’ promenade. Ryko and Delia continue to support Kygo in his bid for the throne, if for no other reason than to hopefully avoid a repetition of Sethon’s previous bloodthirsty acts when acting as head of the emperor’s armies. Ryko and Delia hope Kygo will be more accepting of difference, creating a more inclusive society.
LGBT relationship and discussion of disability sets Eona apart in YA
Overall Eona’s relationship with Kygo seemed rather predictable for YA. I enjoyed the read, but this relationship wasn’t surprising, not even at the end. Ryko’s and Delia’s relationship and discussions of disability are the two elements that set this duology apart from other young adult literature.
Within the narrative Ryko and Delia behave as might any two people attracted to one another regardless of gender or sexual preferences. It seems that neither was concerned about the other rejecting him or her on the grounds of… physical considerations? I’m not sure how to phrase that appropriately: the eunuch and the transvestite are happy in who they are and seem confident their love interest accepts them as they are, in friendship at least. Friends eventually pushed the two together as a couple only to reveal the issue holding Ryko and Delia apart is that they are living in dangerous times. Ryko doesn’t want to hurt Delia by leaving her alone after his death. This concern is exacerbated when they discover Eona can control Ryko after healing him: Ryko no longer feels like he’s his own man and is convinced his time is limited. As this impediment to their relationship stems from something other than heteronormativity dictating acceptable relationships, this relationship conflict enhances the novel. Ryko’s relatable concerns elevate this relationship above the melodramatic.
Throughout both Eon and Eona, the good guys consistently accept Ryko and Delia as they are, sexual preferences and all, while only the bad guys have issues with non-traditional relationships. This theme is specifically mentioned so often that I’m concerned it might come across as moralising rather than truly accepting non-traditional sexual preferences as one does when one assumes a heterosexual relationship. Personally I think we may be in an era where it’s necessary to emphasise acceptance but I hesitate, concerned moralising may be seen as patronising. What does the LGBT community think? I don’t know and they’re the best judge.
At the climax of Eon, Eona used her dragon’s magic to heal herself from lameness caused by her badly set broken hip. This was the element of the conclusion about which I had reservations, mentioned in my review of Eon. Whenever an author introduces a character in fantasy or science fiction, it is almost inevitable that the disabled character will be healed “because MAGIC” or “because SCIENCE”. Kudos to Goodman because she held off on the healing until the end of the first book, but… Eona was healed.
In real life people with disabilities don’t get healed. A real disability is usually permanent and untreatable: this is part of the definition of disability. As someone who was told by a senior social worker ‘Your disability is your choice‘ as part of an ongoing refusal of disability access in the workplace, this healing trope is particularly aggravating. The other classic is ‘Why don’t you have [modern medicine] fix it?’ I really want to see more science fiction and fantasy where the character with a disability lives and adventures with that disability.
Goodman redeems herself hugely in my eyes for healing Eona because of a few key elements. Firstly, Eona needs to become accustomed to the change, including developing her muscles. I thought there could have been more of this, but then this is YA and dwelling on this aspect could have muddied the waters, slowed the plot and made this a darker story. Secondly, the disability/healing trope is revisited in the form of Chart who appears to have cerebral palsy. Eona cares about Chart so it’s inevitable she will want to heal him. Without spoilers, I thought the confrontation with Chart, his potential healing and the reactions of everyone involved in that confrontation brought out many of these issues. For a YA novel with disability as a minor trope I thought Eona discussed this well. I want to see more, but that would change the nature of the novel. The level of exploration of this issue kept the plot fairly light and moving forward.
Significantly there are parallels to the treatment of Eona as disabled and Eona as a woman. Eona masqueraded as a boy when she was disabled but revealed herself as woman when healed, so there is no confusion about the difference sex and disability makes in Eona’s social status. Eona explores the similarities in attitude towards women and disabled. There is a larger divide between treatment of women and disabled in real contemporary culture: recently a woman and my husband talked over me as if I wasn’t there, ‘problem solving’ on my behalf when both were on the wrong track and being completely unhelpful. This is not unlike some of the treatment Eona received as a disabled boy and as a non-disabled woman.
Eona and Ido are, to some extent, the hero and shadow of Jungian archetypes; both hunger for power as an escape from the brutality, slavery and deprivation they’ve experienced in the past. Both choose to identify with power and therefore with the perpetrators of their abuse rather than remain victims. This came through clearly to me in the narrative although it was subtext; Eona could have more clearly expressed her fears enmeshed with the consequences of relinquishing her power during exploration of her internal conflict.
There were a number of other characters who fitted Jung’s archetype classes including Eona’s master who died in the first novel; he was the benevolent father figure who sent her out on her quest. Kygo is the love interest. Chart was the jester while Sethon was the evil king. Rilla, Chart’s mother, may fit the benevolent maternal archetype.
Real societal issues are touched upon without slowing down the plot; acceptance of diverse sexuality is the foremost such theme throughout both books. Disability is explored more in Eon than Eona but one pivotal section of Eona exposes cultural attitudes towards persons with a disability. Throughout attitudes towards women are explored as a facet of culture, attitudes towards women are exposed as being preferable to attitudes towards the disabled.
I’m not sure how much of my wish for more exploration of disability and internal power struggles was personal taste because I wanted to viscerally feel and intellectually explore the issues. There is definitely a place for lighter fantasy novels touching on these tropes as an introduction for those who have not yet engaged with these issues.
I really enjoyed Eon and Eona and highly recommend these novels as high fantasy for a YA audience and adults. The absence of explicit sex scenes broadens the audience: I would happily give this duology to an advanced upper primary reader as well as to my grandmother.