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Just spotted this on Fuse #8: the good news part, which is the launch of Kidlitosphere Central.  It's already an amazing-looking resource, and huge credit to MotherReader for bringing it to life!  It looks as if it would be entirely possible to spend all one's free time (or work time, if that happens to be your job) learning of more and more great children's and YA books from the bloggers who love them so much.

And since I'm on the list (thanks, MR!), I better get down it - especially as I was made aware that I may have sounded 'less than impressed' by Eon when I wrote briefly about it. (This via [livejournal.com profile] steepholm , and it's possible that he wasn't reading that carefully, but of course, possible that he was and I wasn't writing carefully.)  Because I definitely liked it, and am very much looking forward to reading the sequel when it comes out. 

I said last time that there was a very predictable arc within the overall story, and there was that - though I qualified then by saying there were other elements that were anything but standard.  Even without the inside jacket cover info, the crippled-and-despised-for-it girl, pretending to be a boy, training for her chance to be the one boy chosen by the ascendent dragon that year as Dragoneye apprentice -- well, she's not likely to a) fail to be chosen in some way or other by a dragon; b) have an easy time of her pretence at being a boy; c) go back to the salt mines and never have any contact with dragons or any imput in the way things happen in the larger world.

There were quite a few things preventing this from being just another run-of-the-mill, been done before kind of fantasy.  One was the setting.  It's a created world, though one that the author said derives a lot from the research she did into ancient China and Japan.  And this may be a love it or be bored by it kind of thing, but I found it so beautifully described that every detail - of dress, food, custom -- was fascinating.  Horrifying, in many, many ways, but so gorgeous I kept getting surprised by the nastiness. 

Another was the fact that the consideration of gender was so very complex, rather than stopping with the problems Eon(a) gets into while trying to maintain her disguise.  Those are certainly described too, but it was one of the few books I've read which considered the effects that living disguised as a boy for years might have.  Towards the end, she has to tell someone about her pretence and thinks "I did not want to be a girl before him.  I did not want to become less."  It's shocking, but it's certainly something she might well think in this world. And it will be very interesting indeed to see where this goes in the next book, as this world is horribly out of balance - and even if some of that balance is restored by Eona's input of female power, it can hardly change everything.  The person she has to reveal herself to - one of the more 'enlightened' of the people with power - tells her 'That was a low blow. [...]  You have a woman's sense of honour." Ouch.  How can that be fixed? Or the fact that cripples are regarded as bad-luck and shunned or abused for it?  Or that people are property?  

The consideration of sex and gender doesn't stop there, either.  There are many eunuchs in the royal palace - most castrated so that they could serve there.  (And btw, I was confused by the nature of their castration - and according to Wiki at any rate, castration in Ancient China, unlike most other places, involved removal of the whole male genitalia.) One is a guard for an important court lady - who just happens to be a Contraire (transsexual).  The Contraires are respected in her home country, but despised by the people there, except for the Emperor - who values - well, not exactly what she is, but her -- contrariness, as far as I could understand it.  As I said, this is an extremely gender-rigid society, and though occasionally I found the use of 'Moon' to indicate all things female (frex moon energy, Moon Shadow/Shadow Guard or Shadow Man for eunuchs) and 'Sun' all things male (including the steroids the eunuchs in the guard take to keep them fighting fit) a little bit tedious, it made sense that it would be so extremely pervasive.

Finally, I was interested to see a fair number of reviews liking the book, but feeling that the middle section, wherein Eona - by then Lord Eon - failed to figure out the central 'mystery', dragged a bit.  And thought E. unnecessarily clueless.  I didn't (though I must confess I got rather overwhelmed when awfulnesses I hadn't expected kept hitting, and kind of peeked at the end), and was thinking about a really interesting discussion on [livejournal.com profile] diceytillerman 's post about unreliable narrators. It struck me that the only possible way for a character who had lived in this completely sexist society to be a reliable narrator was for her to be as unreliable-through-cluelessness as she was in this particular situation.  A reader figuring it out way before her is a reader in a (thank heavens!) very different mindset.  It'll be interesting to see where Goodman goes with this, as there's a problem of writing a romance (I could be very wrong on this, of course, but it looks as if it's setting up for a romance!) with a man who everyone agrees is entirely within his rights - and indeed, is expected  -  to kill our heroine. 

One last thing I'm looking forward to in the next book is seeing more of the dragons - or maybe more of their personalities, as it were.  The descriptions of them and the sense of power they give Eona were wonderful, but I'm hoping for more still.  The fact that I've said many times now that I want to see what happens in this or that respect in the next book might seem to indicate that this one wasn't satisfying in itself, but though the ending was pretty clearly not an ending, that's anticipation rather than feeling cheated. 

Just as I started off by linking to Kidlitosphere Central, I'll mention the fact that I wouldn't put this at the lower end of YA.  But that's not a particularly informed judgment, and I'm an admitted super-wimp about violence and brutality.

Date: 2009-02-01 06:35 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lady-schrapnell.livejournal.com
Gotcha! It's one of the differences between historical fiction (fantasy or otherwise) and fiction that's historical only in that it was written long enough ago for present-day readers, right? And another take on our old regular question of how far an author of historical fiction goes in the direction historically-likely-but-now-unacceptable mindset or how far in the direction of modern-but-probably-anachronistic.

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