Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is the first book of Alison Goodman’s Eon duology. Interestingly, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn has been published under different titles in each of the major English speaking markets, including Eon: Rise of the Dragoneye and The Two Pearls of Wisdom (the original title, under which it received the 2008 Aurealis Award for best fantasy novel and was an honor book in the 2008 James Tiptree Jr. Award).
Under the strict tutelage of a retired Dragoneye, Eon is training in the hope of being chosen as a Dragoneye apprentice. The Dragoneyes are the protectors of the land, who draw upon the power of the dragons to control the elements. Centuries of tradition dictate that only males can ascend to the position of Dragoneye, and Eon hides a deadly secret – “he” is really Eona, a young woman with unusual powers that drew the attention of her master. As Eon, she will be pulled into the treacherous struggle for the imperial throne.
A deliberately constructed protagonist?
On the surface, Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is one of those stories about a young hero thrust into the centre of great and terrible events, a hero who seems to have been very thoughtfully imagined by the author. Eon is a girl who thinks and acts like a boy as the result of both training and necessity, yet she is undeniably a young woman. Accordingly Eon will appeal to young male and female readers alike. It is to Goodman’s credit that Eon fits so comfortably in the story that it is not obvious whether this was a deliberate construction to increase readership or, as I believe, to explore the book’s primary theme.
Boys are from Mars, girls are from Venus
With a character ripe for some serious confusion it isn’t surprising that gender roles and the treatment of women in a patriarchal society are key issues addressed in Eon: Dragoneye Reborn. Goodman wisely uses her setting to blur the black and white distinction between the sexes, introducing eunuchs and the book’s most colourful character, the contraire Lady Dela. The shades of grey elevate the story well beyond an attack on the sort of society that would view a female Dragoneye as an abomination. Goodman creates a philosophical distinction between male and female (sun and moon) energy without asserting the superiority of either. Both simply are.
Goodman’s exploration of gender is hardly subtle but it feels organic. Unfortunately some of the related ideas lack that same quality. In a throw-away comment the antagonist Ido and the imperial family member he represents are penned as bigots, despising what Dela represents, bearing hatred for foreigners and holding the emperor in contempt for supporting them. But this is, after all, young adult fantasy, and to Goodman’s credit Ido’s motives become increasingly complex as the conflict escalates.
Playing with the tropes of young adult fiction
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn ultimately becomes a tale of self-acceptance. Eon fights long and hard against her true nature before recognising that she was chosen because of who she is. Fortunately Goodman provides her story with an Oriental backdrop, which remains an original setting in young adult literature, and sets Eon’s struggle in the midst of the type of political intrigue which works for any reader.
Why should you read this book?
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn is a fast paced story which most readers will charge through, only to pause at the end and realise just how much thematic ground has been covered. Although the book stopped short of fully drawing me in, Goodman does a fine job of creating mystery and generating tension throughout. Be aware, you’re going to need to read the sequel.