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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 04:06 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] steepholm.livejournal.com
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?

This is first-person, right? So there's no 'perspective' on it by the narrator? Is there even any sense that Eon(a) finds the current state of affairs fundamentally unjust, or is she just trying to do the best she can in a system she regards as right or at least inevitable?

It strikes me that you can have an unreliable narrator work much more unambiguously in a book like Huckleberry Finn, set in our world, because we know that there are other perspectives on slavery than Huck's; but if (as perhaps in the world of this book) the language and cultural mechanisms for that critique do not exist, even to be conscious of a injustice may involve reading self-consciously from outside that world altogether. (If that makes any sense?)

Date: 2009-02-01 05:27 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] lady-schrapnell.livejournal.com
This is first-person, right? So there's no 'perspective' on it by the narrator? Is there even any sense that Eon(a) finds the current state of affairs fundamentally unjust, or is she just trying to do the best she can in a system she regards as right or at least inevitable?


It is first-person, yes. I wish there were an equally simple answer to your second question! A lot of the time, she's just struggling to keep herself alive by maintaining the disguise, and she also has the added problem of being crippled and barely being allowed to train for a chance to be a Dragoneye AND lots of Bad Stuff happens. She sees quite a few things as unjust, but there's so much going on that it's hard to be sure how deep her sense of the injustice(s) goes.

It strikes me that you can have an unreliable narrator work much more unambiguously in a book like Huckleberry Finn, set in our world, because we know that there are other perspectives on slavery than Huck's; but if (as perhaps in the world of this book) the language and cultural mechanisms for that critique do not exist, even to be conscious of a injustice may involve reading self-consciously from outside that world altogether. (If that makes any sense?)

As I just said in today's post, I'm really brain-dead (and Doug's pretty lucky not to be dead too!), but I'm not seeing immediately why there'd be a difference between reading a book like Huckleberry Finn and knowing that the narrator's views on slavery are all wrong, and reading this one and knowing the narrator's views on the place of women in society are also outdated? Unless you're saying that we can read HF without our modern perspective and still know there are other perspectives on slavery?

Another thing in this case is that the Contraire (Lady something or other) is providing a strong voice for someone outside accepted society and 'proper' gender roles too. But I do hope that the sequel doesn't sort everything out by going for a totally Yin-Yan male/female polar opposites complement each other and everything's fine as long as they're balanced line.

Date: 2009-02-01 06:17 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] steepholm.livejournal.com
I'm not seeing immediately why there'd be a difference between reading a book like Huckleberry Finn and knowing that the narrator's views on slavery are all wrong, and reading this one and knowing the narrator's views on the place of women in society are also outdated? Unless you're saying that we can read HF without our modern perspective and still know there are other perspectives on slavery?

I had a feeling I wasn't expressing myself with my trademark claritude, and I'm not sure how clariciously I was thinking, either - but what I was trying to get at was that even at the time HF was published it was possible (and presumably intended) for the reader to say - 'Yup, I recognize where Huck's way of thinking comes from', but also to question the assumptions that he gives voice to - and it was possible in the very society that Huck himself inhabited. Whereas to see the narrator of Eon's views as 'outdated' would already suppose that we're looking at them from the point of view of our own world - since from the point of view of her own her views are bang up to date. So, finding a position from which to perceive her unreliability (in this regard) necessitates being 'thrown out' of her world - or leaving it voluntarily - in a way that isn't necessitated in order to think about Huck's.

I'm not sure whether that point was worth making, but such as it is, that's what I meant!

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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