During the five years I worked for Barnes & Noble, I got to read quite a few books gratis. Like, not only would we get to check out books (and Nooks! with unlimited ebooks!) from the store like it was a frickin’ library, but we also got ARCs and pre-publication copies (the ones that have been copy-edited) of books so we could talk them up to customers. I will admit that I took shameless advantage of all of these privileges, and I miss them quite a lot (although I do NOT miss retail). Long story short, I received a pre-publication of this book SUCH A LONG TIME AGO, and for some unfathomable reason, I never read it. Like, not even a single urge, even though it sounded like something I would adore.
I am currently KICKING MYSELF for this. This book was so good!
Eon has been training for years for the chance to be chosen as a Dragoneye apprentice, one of twelve boys who bond with the magical spirit dragons that protect their Empire. Every twelve years (one for each year in the Dragon cycle), the Dragon coming into power that year chooses a new boy to bond with, who becomes the Dragoneye in training. This year is the year of the Rat Dragon, and everything in Eon’s life is riding on his being chosen. His master has staked his own future and that of his household’s on Eon being chosen, and if he’s not, Eon will be doomed to a life of servitude and de-humanizing treatment, due to his being a cripple in a world where cripples are signs of ill-luck. Only Eon’s status as a potential apprentice keeps him in his position of safety. Even as it is, half the people he sees ward themselves against evil when he walks by.
Oh, and also, Eon is also secretly Eona, a girl in disguise.
This book is YA fantasy, but it definitely doesn’t fall into the standard YA tropes. There is no love story. The underlying themes of this book all tie into Eona’s search for her own identity as a person, and as she learns to navigate her SPOILER new powers, and her mysterious connection with the Mirror Dragon, who has been missing for 500 years. The secondary characters are fantastic, and Goodman does some really interesting things with them. There is also a trans woman in this book, which I did not see coming at all, and she plays a very significant role.
Mostly, the book is full of smart political intrigue, nerve-wracking conflict, and really satisfying character stuff. The world is well-developed (the author’s note states that it was originally inspired by Japanese and Chinese culture, but eventually became its own thing as she was writing it). It’s ridiculously well-paced and really hard to put down. My only complaint was that there was a pivotal twist around the 2/3 mark that I totally saw coming, and that Eona was completely oblivious to, and things she was doing to actively make the problem worse. It made her look stupid that she couldn’t see the cause and effect, but that was literally my only complaint in the book, and even that can be explained by the extreme stress she’s under and her almost total lack of outside support. The book does lean in to a couple of fantasy tropes, but they are ones that I love, and everything around them is so well done, it doesn’t matter.
I’m super excited to see how this story ends, and I’m going to start book two (it’s a duology, so it’s the final book in the story) as soon as I click ‘Publish’ on this review.