As I mentioned last week, I'd been avoiding Eon: Dragoneye Reborn because of the cover art, which to me screams Cheesy And Derivative Fantasy Novel With Much Questing And Very Little Else. If you've been doing the same thing, YOU'RE MAKING A MISTAKE. Do what you must to maintain your sanity -- remove the book jacket, make a new cover out of a grocery bag (you know you still remember how), spray paint the thing black (Josh's method of choice), whatever -- just don't let the cover scare you off. If you do, you'll miss out on a book that is original and well-written and exciting and fun and just flat-out GOOD.
The eleven men who serve as Dragoneyes wield enormous magical power and have great political influence, but acting as a conduit for an energy dragon has its drawbacks as well -- Dragoneyes age much more quickly than normal men. On New Year's Day, one of twelve hopefuls is chosen to become a Dragoneye apprentice. For twelve years, he serves as apprentice to the current Dragoneye, learning how to call and control his dragon. When the cycle begins again, the Dragoneye's term ends, the apprentice becomes the new Dragoneye, and a new apprentice will be chosen.
(You may have noticed that there is a twelve year cycle and only eleven Dragoneyes -- that's because the twelfth dragon hasn't been seen in 500 years. Alison Goodman explains this all much better -- and more succinctly -- in the book.)
For the last four years, Eon has been in training to prepare for the Dragoneye candidacy test. He is one of the very rare people who is able to see all of the energy dragons, rather than just one. Even with that stand-out talent, according to the bookies (and anyone else you'd care to ask) the odds are very much against Eon: as the duties of a Dragoneye are physically grueling as well as mentally, Eon's crippled leg outweighs his magical talent. But, when it comes down to it, the choice is the dragon's, and the dragon's alone -- so Eon still has a chance to become Dragoneye, however small.
But Eon has a secret. One that, if revealed, would result in his execution. Eon is not a twelve-year-old boy. Eon is actually Eona: a sixteen-year-old girl.
That's the set up. Which, in itself, doesn't sound all that original -- the girl masquerading as a boy in order to do something disallowed to the ladies thing has been done quite a lot in fantasy. But Eon is different that those other girls -- Eon doesn't just masquerade as a boy and think like a girl -- the penalties he faces if discovered are so frightening and severe that he has tried to eradicate Eona. Since he tries so hard to erase that part of his identity, it's easy sometimes to forget that he is physically female.
The world and culture that Alison Goodman has created felt so original, the connections between the characters felt so real, that I could not put this one down. There's a lot in it (obviously) about gender identity -- not just because of Eon's situation, but because of some of the side characters and the culture, and there are a few threads about unrequited love that'll spark great discussions. I know that this is the first in a duology, but it's such a cool new world that I'd be very happy to see more stories set in it once Eon's is concluded.
I do think that some people might feel that Eon takes too long in Figuring Things Out. I did, at first -- but the more I thought about it, and the more I took the culture into consideration, the more it made sense to me. So I have no complaints on that front.
Word of warning -- if you end up picking this one up, give yourself enough time to read the last third of it straight through. You will not want to be interrupted.