Firstly, no, I'm not cheating on my resolution (yet). I checked out Alison Goodman's Eon
from the library late in December, and got around to finishing it only a week ago. (I am a slow reader.)
Secondly, the January pick for the YA Floating Diversity Book Club is up: I'm doing Libyrinth
. And I'll be reviewing that, and the December pick sometime later. (Yes, a very slow reader.)
is the story of the Dragoneyes--young men trained from an early age to commune with the spirit dragons of an alternate universe Asia, and thus control things like weather, the health of the emperor, crops prospering, and all kinds of good things. There's one dragon for each of the animals in the Chinese zodiac (although it's not called that in this universe), except one, the Mirror dragon (associated with the dragon zodiac), which has disappeared for centuries. And then Eon, a young apprentice Dragoneye with a lame hip and the unprecedented ability to see all twelve dragons without any prior training, comes to the ceremony that selects the Rat Dragoneye for that season, and the Mirror Dragon resurfaces and chooses Eon as its Dragoneye.
The catch is that Eon is actually Eona, not a young boy but a girl, and women are forbidden from using dragon magic--not only forbidden, but it's assumed that women have no power, so her training as a Dragoneye is not only prohibited but laughable.
This setup is pretty basic, actually, and I was expecting a good swashbuckling adventure with some high-minded preaching maybe about gender roles. However, what's amazing about this book is that it captures perfectly what it feels like to go through life closeted, to stifle your true identity so completely that you forget who you are and how to reconcile your role in life with what might happen to you if your secrets are discovered.
It's remarkably well-written to start with, so I knew by the first page that I was in for something more interesting and original than what I expected. Eon/Eona is an active protagonist, forced to grow up quickly make her own choices early on, and her growth and maturity were both believable and painful to witness.
She also has a close friend and ally in a character named Lady Dela, a transgendered female, who is described as having "the body of a man, but the spirit of a woman"--perhaps the most poetic and elegant description of a transgendered person I've ever seen. Goodman doesn't shy away from the malicious hazing this character has to endure either--Lady Dela has scars from where someone carved the character for "demon" into her skin, and she travels with a bodyguard to keep from being attacked. Also, Lady Dela is consistently referred to as "she," never casting any doubt on her feminine nature.
There is plenty of adventure here--mystery and hidden conspiracies, political intrigue handled in a way that stays interesting and holds the reader captivated, and Eona's budding friendship with the Prince which may turn into something more in the sequel, I'm not sure, but even if that's the case it's, again, handled in such a way that it comes off beautifully. But it's also a coming-of-age story about gender identity and knowing one's true self. Eona goes through an internal struggle on how "female" she really is, whether this masquerade is becoming part of her identity or whether she is just denying the female part of her nature for her own safety. The author brings up with deft subtlety the difference between conforming to prescribed gender roles in whatever society you're in, and claiming whatever gender you are as part of your being.
I don't know that this is really a metaphor for the closeted teenager, but boy does it have a lot of the same feeling behind it. That itch to confide in someone is there, coupled with fear that she might be exiled or even killed just for being what she is, and also the doubt about whether her friends will ever trust her again once they know she's kept such a big secret from them.
My looming TBR pile is the only thing stopping me from reading the sequel right now
, but I highly recommend this book regardless.