Sunday, 15 December 2019

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is a space fantasy book aimed at younger readers. It's the first in a series and is entirely unrelated to Yoon Ha Lee's other books, which are adult science fiction. I don't generally read much middle grade, but I picked this one up mainly because of the author. I'd say its also at the older end of the category: the protagonist is thirteen years old, but spends much of the book pretending to be sixteen, so there is a bit of a YA feel to it as well.

THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD MIN comes from a long line of fox spirits. But you'd never know it by looking at her. 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.

Dragon Pearl follows Min as she sets out on an illicit adventure to find out what really happened to her brother. She sets off with almost nothing other than her fox-based shape-shifting magic and magical Charm, and finds herself very far away from her home planet. It was a fun space adventure involving morally ambiguous adults, new friends and dangerous situations. I enjoyed it a lot and I look forward to any sequels that may be forthcoming. Although the story is quite self-contained, it sets up a possible series and I definitely want to read those other stories.

As well as not being a big middle-grade reader, I also tend to steer away from space fantasy books, having been burned a few times before. To be honest, I wasn't sure how strong the fantasy element would be before I started reading, but I was assuming it would mostly be science fiction. It is set on other planets and in space, so it's science fiction if that's your definition of it. But the world building is very deeply steeped in Korean folklore and the associated magic. The story very prominently involves shapeshifting supernaturals and ghosts, and the titular pearl is a magical terraforming device. This worldbuilding worked for me very well. It felt very consistent — perhaps because it's directly based on real mythology rather than being entirely fictional. (I am trying very hard not to name the authors that previously ruined magic in space for me, can you tell?)

I highly recommend Dragon Pearl to fans of science fiction and fantasy, especially space adventures. Readers who are already fans of Korean folklore, or just want to learn more about it, will also find much to like here. I hope I will have the opportunity to give this book to my niece before she outgrows it.

4.5 / 5 stars

First published: January 2019,  Rick Riordan Presents (Disney)
Series: book 1 of ? (I thought I saw the second book announced, but I am failing to find any info right now)
Format read: ePub
Source: Purchased from Kobo store

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