Sunday, January 25, 2009

Alison Goodman - The Two Pearls of Wisdom (Book Review)


"Two Pearls of Wisdom" (Amazon: US, UK)
by Alison Goodman
Format: Paperback, 448 pages
Publisher: Bantam (September 2008)


Under the harsh regime of an ambitious master, Eon is training to become Dragonseye – a powerful lord able to command wind and water to nurture and protect the land. But Eon also harbors a desperate secret – he is, in fact, a young woman living a dangerous masquerade that, if discovered, will mean a certain death. Brought to the attention of the Emperor himself and summoned to the opulent court, Eon is thrust into the heart of a lethal struggle for the Imperial throne. In this new, treacherous world of hidden identities and uneasy alliances, Eon comes face-to-face with a vicious enemy who discovers the young Dragonseye’s astounding power, and will stop at nothing to make it his own.

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I've noticed lately that there are more and more girls reading fantasy. While SF is still generally regarded as being 'too technical' and not interesting enough for girls to read (and by 'girls', I mean a typical girl-reader, possibly one that adores romantic and detective novels), fantasy fiction began gaining popularity amongst (younger) female readers. Subgenres like urban fantasy and paranormal romance (e.g. "Twilight") produced many international bestsellers and now, more and more of those ‘typical girl-readers’ are interested in fantasy and demand something more feminine than the classical epic fantasy. Muscular and strong male figures are being replaced by subtle and strong-willed female protagonists, most of them defying rigid, patriarchal societies surrounding them; books are not necessarily less action-packed but certainly different – instead of focusing on a masculine hero, who is saving the world one way or another (I'm exaggerating to prove my point, not to offend those who enjoy that kind of books - I myself am a fan of epic fantasy), they follow a female protagonist who is mostly just trying to survive in a harsh male world.

One of this feminine, graceful books is definitely "The Two Pearls of Wisdom". The main protagonist of this novel is a young, willful woman, who becomes involved in a world of politics, conspiracies and war. While at first she appears unsure of herself, scared and almost shy, she soon grows accustomed to the role she has to play, starts to change and re-shape the masculine world she just entered. In this, "The Two Pearls of Wisdom" reminded me much of Pamela Freeman's "Blood Ties" (review) – her character Bramble is just as determined and sometimes stubborn as Eon(a), the main difference between the two being the world they live in; while Bramble's adventures take place in a medieval setting, Eona, on the other hand, is born and raised in a world with a strong Oriental touch to it, like an imaginary version of China.
A dazzling adventure in the tradition of Lian Hearn’s Across The Nightingale Floor
That Oriental setting is very alike to that of another book – “Across the Nightingale Floor”, and judging by the above quote (originally found on the front cover of the book), I was not the only one to notice the similarities. In this case, the above quote is completely true; even more, I found “The Two Pearls of Wisdom” much more enjoyable than “Across the Nightingale Floor” (review). While the latter lacks discernible plot twists and innovation but abounds in clichés, the former successfully manages to merge the essence of the Orient and a classical tale of a commoners (who is, in this case, also disadvantaged by being a cripple and a woman in a patriarchal society) rise to power and fame, all wrapped into a delifgthful story of intrigue, warfare and discovering one’s past. All in all, “The Two Pearls of Wisdom” is a very enjoyable read, which flows smoothly and never fails to hold your attention, but brings nothing new to the - full laden fantasy - table.
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4 Comments:

Thea said...

I'm sold. This book sounds fascinating...and I like your very interesting take on female readers and their reading preferences, especially as it pertains to fantasy/SF.

I actually really loved Across the Nightingale Floor! *ducks* ;) Hearing that The Two Pearls of Wisdom is even better definitely pushes it to the top of my list!

Mary Fagan said...

You go, Girl! I still like the muscles, though...

Trin said...

@Thea: I forgive you for liking AtNF xD it's not that bad, really, I just found it too naive.

@Mary: same here. :D

Moie said...

I read this book and it is fantastic! One of my favourite fantasy books, I can't wait for the sequel, hopefully it comes out sometime this year!!

 

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