Stereotypical modern-day fantasy is based on medieval Europe. It’s just the way it is these days, thanks in part to J.R.R. Tolkien and his beautifully fleshed out Middle Earth, which was, in his own mind, an attempt at giving England a mythology it sorely lacked.
So when I come across a fantasy book that is not set in that stereotype, I sometimes struggle. I’ll admit that. I sometimes don’t want feel like working to adopt a new style of fantasy; it seems like too much work before I can enjoy the writing and characters and story.
After having just finished Alison Goodman’s ancient Chinese and Japanese influenced ‘Eon’, I’m sure that I’ve missed out.
I’ll admit, again, that I struggled at first with the very Asian influences in this book. Not for any other reason than I simply wasn’t willing to work for it. In the end though, I’m thoroughly relieved that I stuck it out and finished the book, because I’m clawing at the world to get into the second book which is sitting on my shelves.
Putting aside the Asian influences that are beautifully realised and really do add a different touch of the fantastical to the book, Goodman knows how to write. I have never read anything she has written, but I’m glad I have now. Her beautiful depictions of character and identity make this book a very special read.
Eon is a girl well-disguised as a boy who is attempting to become an apprentice Dragoneye – “a powerful lord able to master wind and water to protect the land” as a result of a bonding with one of the twelve dragons. Naturally, Eona – her real name – harbours more than meets the eye – in more ways than one – and the story soon jumps into a rollicking tale of intrigue, mystery, death and, above all, identity.
There is never anything overt about the identity issues that Goodman raises, which in a way makes them all the more powerful. They are simply taken for granted in the universe Goodman writes, and the views given to them by the characters therein wonderfully mirror the identity struggles suffered by many in our own world.
But, even though identity makes up a good portion of the character development throughout this book, there is no preaching; it simply is, and that’s what makes it all the more fascinating to read.
The characters are beautifully realised, including the main villain who, by the end of the book, you want to read more of; you want to understand him more than you’ve been allowed to so far. The main character of Eona is someone you can identify with, despite her age, and allows you to take her place in the maelstrom of her new world and the terrors and riches therein.
The fantastical elements in this book are almost non-existent, at least in practice, though heavily referenced and visualised at times, making for a wonderfully constructed world that leaves you wanting more.
Alison Goodman is definitely a face to watch over the next decade. Her writing is intricate without being heavy, and her ability to include that which is important into a story that is fantastical leaves you in awe of her skills.
Joshua S Hill
Under the harsh regime of an ambitious master, Eon is training to become a Dragoneye – a powerful Lord able to command wind and water to nurture and protect the land. But Eon also harbours a desperate secret that, if revealed, will mean certain death.
Brought to the attention of the Emperor himself, Eon is thrust into the heart of a lethal struggle for the Imperial throne. In this treacherous world of hidden identities and easy alliances, Eon comes face-to-face with a viscous enemy who covets the young Dragoneye’s astounding power, and will stop at nothing to make it his own.
This book first came to me under the guise of Eon: Dragoneye and I have to be honest and admit that I instantly dismissed it. The cover illustration immediately put me in mind of Christopher Paolini’s Inheritance Cycle (this is not a good thing) and at the time I really wanted to read something a little different, something with at least a touch of originality.
In instantly dismissing Eon: Dragoneye I was guilty of committing the cardinal sin of judging a book by its cover. As time went by, news came through regarding a book called The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman; a book that had won the 2008 Aurealis Award and was receiving rave reviews from the public and critics alike. Upon closer inspection I was finally able to put two and two together and realised that Eon: Dragoneye and The Two Pearls of Wisdom were the same book, albeit aimed at different audiences, and I belatedly realised that I was missing out on something a little bit special.
The Two Pearls of Wisdom is an epic fantasy set in a beautifully evoked ancient China. Although there is much here that is traditional fantasy the author has taken it, given it a shake or a slight twist, and the results are a delightfully descriptive narrative with a fresh, exciting and original feel. In fact, the book read so well that I would go so far as to say that it compares favourably to Robin Hobb’s fantasy masterpieces.
The excerpt below is an example of the book’s narrative:
“The dragon suddenly swung around to face the Emperor above the dark mirror. He cocked his head to one side then screamed, the sound like the shriek of a hunting eagle but a hundred times louder. It pushed me down to my knees. I dropped my swords, pressing my hands against my ears, but the scream was in my head, shattering my senses. A surge of energy knocked me sideways. And then the heat at my back was gone.”
The Two Pearls of Wisdom: Chapter 5
The Two Pearls of Wisdom is a spellbinding tale full to the brim with martial arts, political intrigue, ancient myth and mysticism. The engaging characters will remain with you long after the last page has been turned and the setting of Ancient China is magnificent. Also, the book’s ending is without doubt one of the best that I have read in a long time - the pacing is absolutely perfect. This is a highly recommended book from a highly talented author.
Alison Goodman lives in bayside Melbourne, Australia with her husband and their indomitable Jack Russell terrier. She was a D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at the University of Melbourne, holds a Master of Arts Degree and teaches creative writing at postgraduate level. Her debut novel was the award-winning futuristic thriller, Singing the Dogstar Blues, and her second, the acclaimed Killing the Rabbit. The Two Pearls of Wisdom recently won the Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel of the Year and Alison is currently hard at work writing a sequel.
1 positive reader review(s) for The Two Pearls of Wisdom
Alison Goodman was born in Melbourne and, after a bit of wandering, recently returned to live there. She was a D.J. O’Hearn Memorial Fellow at Melbourne University, holds a Masters degree and teaches creative writing at [...]
Joe from Wales/UK
Just finished reading this book and I have to say it was just extraordinarily spellbinding! I had to head straight to Amazon and buy the sequel which is equally as good so far! The way the first book ended really couldn't have been predicted. Everything pieced together nicely as it went on and I'll be very sad when I finish reading the second knowing there wont be a follow up!
9.7/10 from 2 reviews