There are few books that I hold in high enough regard to give them a five star rating. The only other book I’ve ever done that for is Name of the Wind by Patrick Rothfuss. I had a lot of trepidation going into this book, but I came out of it feeling like a kid again; like I had been a part of that story and that I could do anything. But there’s so much more to Eon than just making me feel like a hopeful reader that can’t get to the bookstore fast enough for the sequel.
I’ll admit: when I saw this book on the shelves of my local bookstores, I judged it by the cover pretty hardcore. But I was excited. I hadn’t read a good dragon book in so long. And I love dragons. So my expectations were set pretty high. Then I read the synopsis on the back and I was nervous to take it home. The main character, Eon, is actually a 16 year old girl masquerading as a 12 year old boy. I wasn’t sure how the book would handle this character; would they be depicted as a trans boy? Genderfluid or nonbinary? Or just as a girl pretending to be a boy just because they wanted to? But I eventually disregarded that feeling and brought the book home. I’m so glad I did.
The General Plot
Eon, a twelve year old boy (who is actually Eona, a sixteen year old girl) is what is in training to for a chance to become the next “Dragoneye”, a man who communicates with one of the twelve dragons. Those dragons are based off the Chinese zodiac and each dragon has it’s own power, force it governs over and personality. The Dragoneye reflects that power and personality and together, they work to help protect the country against natural disasters. Eona was a slave who, when hit by a rogue cart and shatters her hip, is taken in by a former Dragoneye in order to become Eon and to save his new master’s failing household. Eon goes against the other eleven apprentices-in-training, all of whom are healthy boys; while Eon is shunned in society for being a cripple.
When the time for the ceremony comes, he is not chosen. But when the ceremony comes to a close, he is instead chosen by the Dragon Dragon, called the Mirror Dragon, who has been missing for over five hundred years. Eon is then thrown into a deadly game of politics, training and having to learn to be the Mirror Dragoneye without a master to train under. He must learn to survive while still keeping his secret away from prying eyes; because to be a woman with power in this world means Eon will be killed.
The book handles disability, both physical and mental, as well as gender inequality in a refreshing tone. Eon, with a shattered hip that barely healed properly, cannot perform his duties as well as the other trainees. He is limited and often held back by his leg. Allison Goodman does not hide or ignore the fact that Eon is a cripple, that he has a set of problems to deal with because of it, and that society hates him for it. There is a supporting character in Eon’s home, prior to him being chosen by the Mirror Dragon, that is clearly autistic and isn’t regarded as a “token” character.
Goodman handled Eon’s character well; he was described as “two-spirit”, a person who lives with both sexes in their bodies. More commonly known as “gender fluid”. Eon had to deal with hiding his womanhood in order to survive but he felt equally at home with his female self as he did with his male self. It was a refreshing reprieve to listen to the point of view of a character that wasn’t cisgendered.
The book, in terms of writing and story, had me hooked from the beginning. Like I had mentioned earlier, it had been a long time since I felt so immersed in a book. For the first time in a few years, I finished the book, put it down in my lap, and stared emptily at the wall because I felt a hole open up in me that I wasn’t sure how I could fill it again. There were times when I knew I had to be up early the next morning for my Day Job but I instead stayed up to keep reading, even when it was well past midnight and I had to be up by six.
The biggest issue I’ve had with the book, and one of the only ones, was that in the end, when Eon fully bonds with his dragon and it heals him. The dragon’s magic “fixed” Eona; the shattered hip and bad leg was instantly healed, with no trace of the former injury. It set the idea that in order to be fully realized and considered a real Dragoneye/person/whatever, you had to be perfectly healed in all ways. Eona could have remained with the leg, another personal obstacle, a reminder of her past, that she could have accepted and become who she was meant to be. Her disability was cast aside as soon as it was no longer needed to elicit sympathy or define a character.
The Final Verdict
If you enjoy dragons (like I do), or Chinese roots, in your stories, pick up this book. You won’t regret it. I recommended this book instantly to any roommate that was at the house as soon as I had finished it, raving about how great it was. Now, I’m off to go grab the sequel and wait for another book to be released by Allison Goodman.