The Two Pearls of Wisdom by Alison Goodman

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HarperCollins, 2008. ISBN 9780732288006 $32.99 434 p.
(Ages 12 - Adult) When Eon struggles to rise to his feet after being knocked down again by Swordmaster Ranne, every veteran reader knows that here is a boy who will survive against all odds, overcoming his disabled leg and small stature, to compete in the ceremony to find the new apprentice to Dragoneye. But all is not as it seems, and the Swordmaster mocks Eon, and many others in the company training the 12 boys for tomorrow's ceremony seem to know already who will win.  And it is not Eon. The hated Lord Ido's presence seems palpable, and his scheme for the new apprentice seem to be holding sway, until the Mirror Dragon, not seen for five hundred years, picks Eon out as the trainee.

From then on, Eon's path is set, his master and his friends from his master's household reap the rewards of training him, and are elevated with Eon into the Palace. But they must all be wary, Lord Ido is not one to be crossed, and there is another concern, Eon must never be seen by inquisitive eyes, lest he be revealed for what he really is, a young woman, one for whom the honour of being an apprentice can never be.

Being a Dragoneye means that the person can call the dragon to him, but Eon is gutted by his inability to do so, beginning to rely on drugs to help him. Lord Ido realises this and is able to force Eon to do his will, amassing all the power he needs to take over when the sickly emperor dies. The contest between Ido and Eon is stunning, as Ido takes the ascendancy because of his knowledge of Eon's sexuality, and his scheming controls all others around him. The tension is crushing as events happen which add to the air of control and counter control. All the while the reader swings with the shifts in allegiance, absorbs the twists, ponders what will happen next.

This is a society based on Ancient China and Japan, but brimming with fabulous overtones of Dragon Mythology, with dragon lore that is original and brilliant, giving the reader a new vocabulary to absorb and images to grasp. The background is dazzlingly described, the food - edible; the costumes within a finger's grasp; the tension within the palace breathes down the reader's neck. And as you read, you will find yourself looking over your shoulder to watch out for who may be listening in or watching you. As with all good fantasies, the climax is frantic and bloody, leaving the reader salivating for more.

A luminous fantasy novel which lives on, The Two Pearls of Wisdom is to be followed with a second book, Necklace of the Gods. I can't wait.
Fran Knight