There are two ways a book can make one miss, or nearly miss, one’s subway/train/bus stop. Most commonly, the book absorbs you such that you stop paying attention to your surrounds. Eventually you look up and realize that you’ve traveled much further than you thought. Alternately, a book grips you but allows you to see your surroundings; you see the stop before yours come and go, you see your stop approach — and you still can barely slam shut the book and get out of the train. Eon does the latter. I read it in three train rides, one lunch, and an evening of ignoring the clock as it got closer and closer to my bed time.
I first heard of Eon when I was reading the starred review it got in Publisher’s Weekly. I looked at the title1; and cover and thought, “Ugh, that looks like standard overwrought fantasy, why are they giving it a starred review?” I read the summary part of the review and thought, “Ugh, that sounds like standard overwrought fantasy, why are they giving it a starred review?” I read the part of the review where it talked about the gender issues, and thought “Oh!” and wrote it down on my to-read list. Many months later I got around to reading it, and am now refraining from beginning my review with a summary, for fear of making you think its standard overwrought fantasy.
So what is going on? In a vaguely imperial China-esque society, Eon is in the midst of a reverse-meteoric rise from slave to crippled, inauspicious trainee, to a rank just shy of the imperial family. Eon is thrust into the midst of court intrigue and desperate power struggles, in which Eon is as much pawn as player. Oh, and Eon was born Eona and is physically female. After four years dressing as a boy, speaking as a boy, behaving as a boy, and taking part in training and studies only boys are allowed, Eona has been reduced to a tiny presence in the back of Eon’s mind; a little harder to ignore around menstruation, but pushed back and, in many ways, seen by Eon as an enemy.
To this, we add two other central characters: Lady Dela, the court lady assigned to teach Eon courtly ways, and Ryko, Lady Dela’s bodyguard. Lady Dela is a Contraire – male-to-female transgender. The Empire is vast; where Dela is from, Contraires are admired because they combine male sun power and female moon power. Sent to court as a gift, she has had to pave her own way in a setting where she is looked on as more unnatural than a force of nature. Ryko is a eunuch.
This means that many of the conversations in the book take place, ostensibly, between a woman, a man, and a boy. And the woman’s the only one with a penis. And that’s where the power of the book is found. These three characters each have complex relationships with their bodies, their self-perception, and their sexuality, and they all have different complexities. It respects the diversity in gender identity and expression while painting a disturbing but honest picture of the discrimination and violence, often sexualized violence, perpetrated against both a lesser-valued gender and against those whose gender expression breaks societal norms.
It’s a complex, powerful, at times painful book. Beware reading it on trains.
1 In Australia, the title is The Two Pearls of Wisdom. We always seem to get the worst titles. And in this case it’s particularly egregious, since Eon: Dragoneye Reborn in conjunction with the title of the sequel gives away something fairly major.
Eon: Dragoneye Reborn ~