Josh’s Review: “Eon” by Alison Goodman

I picked up Eon on a whim; I had just finished a slew of John Green novels and was hungry for more good YA literature. So, I grabbed Goodman’s novel via the recommendation of Barnes and Noble’s “Top Picks” cataloguing system, and then I promptly forgot about it for awhile. However, I uncovered it beneath a pile of papers in the back of my car a few weeks ago, and, since I’m in-between reading projects right now and in desperate need of something easy to read, I gave it a shot. And I’m really glad I did.

Eon tells the story of a young girl (actually named Eona) who has taken on the guise of a boy in order to have the possibility of becoming a Dragoneye. Eona, since being pulled from her terrible life in the salt mines, has been training and living as Eon, the apprentice of the old Tiger Dragon Dragoneye. Goodman’s novel takes place in a land that seems to sort of exist as an amalgam of Chinese and Japanese myths and legends and cultures. In this land, the Empire of the Celestial Dragons, there are twelve dragons and twelve Dragoneyes. Dragoneyes function as protectors of the land, able to wield the mighty powers of their dragons to influence natural disasters and steer them away from towns and cities. The path to becoming a Dragoneye is dependent on being chosen first as an apprentice by one of the dragons (one new apprentice is chosen each year by the ascendant dragon of that year), and in the Empire of the Celestial Dragons, only men are eligible to train and present themselves as candidates to be chosen by the dragons. The system is a whole lot more complex than that, but this at least gives you a general picture of how things work in Goodman’s world.

Perhaps my favorite part of this book (and I had several) was the delicacy and cleverness with which Goodman deals with the larger social issues at work here. The Empire of the Celestial Dragons is a place of deep misogyny, patriarchy, and heteronormativity, and, in addition to our main character, we are shown several characters who have to navigate these socially treacherous waters. Initially I was really worried about a YA fantasy that was trying to deal with all of that stuff while also situating a story in such a complex, rule-driven culture, but Goodman is able to juggle these various demands beautifully, and the resulting story is so much more powerful and poignant because of it. I wish I’d had a book like this during my teen years when I was ravenously devouring any piece of fantasy literature I could get my hands on. It becomes very obvious early on that the reader is in good hands on this trip, and I was able to sit back and enjoy the ride. And though there are certain long-term suggestions or ramifications with which I would probably want to take issue were I lucky enough to talk with the author, I think she presents such difficult issues in an open and neutral enough way that I never felt like I was reading an ideological argument.

Part of the way Goodman gets around directly dealing with some of these social problems is by situating them nicely within the incredibly rule-oriented, hierarchical culture of her world. Now, I usually get kind of bored by this sort of thing, and it’s because it tends to be something the author leans on really unsuccessfully. So, we will get a cultural hierarchy in which social transgressions are the worst thing ever and then, SHOCK!, our main character will break certain social rules during an especially intense moment!! Can you believe it!? Yes. That’s the problem. I almost always totally can believe it, which makes those moments lose any real potency. But Goodman does such a great job of portraying real anxieties about these hierarchical social rules, and the moments when characters break them actually made me feel anxious and tense as a result. There was one moment in particular, near the end of the book, where a major social/cultural faux pas occurred, and I actually put the book down in disbelief, and it was completely due to Goodman’s brilliant portrayal of this culture’s rules and the consequences for breaking them.

My only complaint regarding this novel is that there are certain plot points or character moments that feel a little rushed, and part of this is due to the fact that Goodman seems to really be working on keeping the pacing of the novel going at a steady clip. There were a few points where I had to stop and reread certain passages or scenes because there had been little to no set-up or warning. While this can be a good thing at times, there are a few moments in Eon where it actually seems a little rough, as though this or that plot point had to happen regardless of the happenings before and after it. And while these moments are quickly forgotten in the general awesomeness of the novel, they did still hold me up every once in awhile.

As a YA fantasy novel, Eon is pretty holistically predictable, but that absolutely doesn’t really detract from how completely enjoyable this book is. The fantasy elements in place are really neat and often very unique, our main character is compelling and believable, and the pace pushes along steadily throughout. Despite the book (at least my copy) being a 531-page brick, I read through Eon in about a day and a half. I just loved hanging out in that world; the characters are interesting, and the worldbuilding is really great. And thankfully for all of us, the sequel, Eona, is out. I’ll definitely be picking that one up soon.

Eon gets five out of five slices of lasagna. That fifth piece might be just a tad smaller than the others, but it all tastes delicious and will leave you feeling happily filled.

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