My rating: 4 of 5 stars
I have a confused reaction to this book. On one hand, I’m sure I liked it, on the other, there are some things bothering me that I can’t put my finger on.
The things I liked:
1. Eon/Eona – Though I wouldn’t call her the strongest female lead I’ve seen, I found Eona to be a character who I could empathise with. She is not one of those suddenly-blossomed-into-Margaret-Thatcher-from-ordinary-girl-in-miniskirts heroines that seem to (over)populate YA these days. She is a sixteen year old thrust into a situation beyond her capabilities and she handles it the best she can. Eona’s character is realistic and believable, and I didn’t mind it when she cried. I also really appreciated the duality of her nature and the character development she went through – it was really one of the high points of the book.
2. The setting – (Stashes away manga before anyone sees.) Ahem. Yes. As a big fan of East Asian culture and mythology, one of the reasons I was drawn to this book was the infusion of Chinese and Japanese elements. Alison Goodman has done some excellent world building here, the mythology is extensively developed, but still leaves just the right amount of room for mystery. The beauty and harmony of the settings contrasts nicely with the brutality of the society. Think kings who kill baby brothers and generals that allow soldiers to randomly castrate men.
3. Lady Dela – I honestly think she is the most awesome character in the book. Politically savvy, witty, true to herself (basically everything Eon is not; Dela is a foil in more ways than one), rather ironically, Lady Dela may be a better symbol of female empowerment than the protagonist (or any one else for that matter).
4. The dragons – Technically they should be part of the world building, but I will never let go of an opportunity to rave about dragons (Never! Clings tightly to the post.) The dragons are wholly Chinese; they have the pearls of wisdom and claws typical of those (and the connection to the Zodiac). I like how they are represented as elemental beings; they may be infinitely wise and everything, but they are still enormous beasts. The writing really shines when Eona and her dragon commune. And with great power comes great responsibility. (And great electricity bills.)
The things I didn’t like:
1. The master: Is that…? No, it can’ t be…? OMG, the old man is making a move on her! Nooooooooo! Okay, I have no issues with age and romantic love etc etc, but for the person who crippled you permanently and kept you around just for money and is probably old enough to be your grandfather, to grope your chest after you wake up, recovering from burns, is just wrong. It’s wrong. Or maybe he just forgot his spectacles at home. That explains why he died. Yep.
2. Ido – I’m all for handsome, charming, morally ambiguous antagonists getting redemption, but what’s with this abruptness? We have Ido running around, putting in great effort to kill off other Dragoneyes, take over Eona’s mind and body, stealing and retrieving stolen folios and since all this work makes a man thirsty, he occasionally drains his apprentice (and whoever he can get his hands on) of power. Oh, and don’t forget the wine with steroids. All this is going on when all of a sudden, our protagonist pumps him with some green happy stuff and he reforms faster than a Jew in the Spanish Inquisition. Good times. I get that there are shades of grey and all, but this is kind of ridiculous. Plus, if Eona really had made him feel the effect of everything he did, the man would be in an ICU right now. Thats all I’m saying.
3. The politics – This could have been more believable. We are introduced to a conflict without of epic proportions and never told what exactly drives who. Lord Sethon, okay, but Ido? Why does he want power so badly? Given that his personality is ambiguous, shouldn’t his motivation be too? What about the prince? Sure, his dad was okay, but he seems to have a mean streak. What’s the certainty he won’t be a dictator too? Kygo is rather underdeveloped as a character. The royal family in general is a problem. Eona never questions their trustworthiness; she just accepts that it is right and necessary to preserve them. The rebels are also lacking in details; I had to be reminded that a rebel faction exists at all.
4. The above mentioned faults are not too bad. In fact, I’m willing to overlook everything except…the excessive kowtowing. As P.C Cast put it, the whole I-bow-you-bow-then-we-all-bow-thing gets tiresome and is only worth mentioning if you want a serious workout to lose some flab. A quick class on how to lose weight fast using the tried and tested grovel method:
a) Get rid of any pride you have. Cruelly beat it, pulverize it to death. You must be at the bottom of the social ladder for this to work.
b) Then start bowing to everyone you meet. The higher their rank, the lower the bow. This should go on until you meet the king and he can’t tell you from the carpet.
c) Enjoy the results of your strenuous abdominal workout and start working to pay for a knee replacement.
Observant readers may have noticed that I’ve given the book 4 stars despite all the negativity. Thats because the book does make up for its flaws with a plot that moves at breakneck pace, an unforgiving insight into reality and society, interesting, unique characters and decent prose. So I’m going to keep my fingers crossed and hope that I will finish the sequel wanting to write a review about how much awesomer it is.