Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859Publication Date: 20 January 2019
Publisher: Rick Riordan Presents
Format: Paperback, ARC
Pages: 304
ISBN: 136801335X

Summary: To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

***

Review:

This is probably the most disappointing review I’ve written in a while and it really pains me to do so. Those who follow me will know how much I adore Lee’s other series, Ninefox Gambit, and his short story collection. When I saw the announcement that he’d be writing for part of Rick Riordan’s expanded mythology series, I was ecstatic. Percy Jackson was my childhood and I couldn’t wait to see how Lee would introduce middle schoolers to Korean Mythology like I had Greek. Unfortunately, this book fell short of the hype for me.

Before I continue with the review, I want to say that I read the majority of this book during a particularly bad bout of what I don’t quite want to call depression, but it felt similar. As such, my personal rating and enjoyment of this book were likely severely hampered, so please take this review with a lot of salt.

What I loved the most about this book was the way Lee manages to blend Korean mythology with a space opera setting, something rarely seen in middle grade novels. There are all sorts of mythical creatures in this world: dragons, gumiho or foxes, tigers, dokkaebi (Korean goblins) and more. In particular, I loved how the dragons were described: Dragon. Weather. Engineers. Ever part of that title just sounds so badass and I really wish the dragons and their weather terraforming association got more screentime.

I also appreciated Lee’s willingness to play around with gender in this world. Foxes, when they’re born, get to choose their gender. While the majority of foxes, like our MC Min, present female, others like her brother present male. However, I think it’s interesting that for a species that can shapeshift into almost anything (Min shapeshifts into a table early on to spy on people), how the structures of gender would differ. I only wish this idea was explored more.

As for the rest of the book, I think most of my grievances lay in the fact that I wish the world was explored more. I’m a big worldbuilding person and I think it’s hard to do space opera without some heavy worldbuilding. However, this is also a middle grade novel which means no paragraphs upon paragraphs dedicated to a planet’s history or how a specific branch of military functions. Personally, I think Lee did a good job balancing the two. Unfortunately for me, I am not the book’s target audience and spent much of the book wishing Lee would delve deeper.

Otherwise, as I read, I just found myself not caring about. There was nothing particularly wrong with anything, I rather liked Min, I thought the people she met along the way were interesting, she had a reasonable quest even if she’s only 13 and Charm is way too OP, but there was just something that just didn’t mesh with me. Frankly, I’m probably going to blame my mental state when I read because as I write this review, there’s really nothing that I shouldn’t have liked.

Overall, I rate this book a 3/5. While I can’t analytically find anything wrong with it, I just couldn’t mesh with it for some reason.

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