the Little Red Reviewer

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Posted on: March 17, 2019

Dragon Pearl, by Yoon Ha Lee

Published in January of 2019

where I got it:  purchased new

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About half way through Raven Stratagem, I realized I wanted to read everything Yoon Ha Lee had written. The Machineries of Empire series only has three books, and I needed more of this kind of writing, of this style of story weaving. So, I ordered myself a copy of Conservation of Shadows, and bought a copy of Lee’s middle grade book Dragon Pearl.

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Dragon Pearl was very cute, and it is definitely book aimed towards the 8 to 10 years old crowd. My niece justs turned six, I can’t wait for her to be old enough to read this. I hope this is the book that has her asking her parents a million questions about how the world works, why adults do the things they do, if she can be a fox spirit when she grows up, and how terra-forming works.
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When Min’s older brother Jun joined the Space Forces, his family hoped he’d return home to a better world. When Min’s mother receives word that Jun abandoned his post to seek the Dragon Pearl, the family is shocked. Min knows her brother would never do something like this. She knows what he was looking for, out there in the deepness of space, and she knows why it would tempt him so much. But his letters home make no sense, she knows something is very wrong! Knowing that she can’t let anyone outside her immediate family know that she is a fox spirit who can shapeshift, she leaves home (a little Binti like, actually!), in search of her brother’s ship and his last known where abouts.

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Dragon Pearl is very fast paced, and in short order Min loses her possessions, is embarrassed to learn exactly why her family doesn’t want their children ever using their fox-spirit magic such as shapeshifting and Charm in public, escapes the gravity well of her impoverished planet, gains a ghost, and ends up having to shape shift to imitate a dead boy who was posted on the same ship as her brother. Speaking of not using her Charm magic in public, I got an absolute kick out of the scenes in the casino.

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What started out as “find out what happened to my brother” has now turned into avoid the scary tiger captain, keep a ghost happy, quickly learn how to be a fifteen year old male cadet, somehow gain access to the planet of the dead (literally. It’s covered in ghosts and when you go there they kill you) and most importantly, don’t get stuck in this physical form forever! Some members of her brother’s ship were on a secret mission to find the Dragon Pearl, and if Min can understand what happened, her dusty, unfinished planet could become a paradise. It sounds very convoluted, doesn’t it? Luckily, Lee is a fantastic writer, so while it is fast paced, it isn’t convoluted at all.
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I enjoyed how the plot was put together, I liked the characters, I loved how Lee weaves Korean mythology and the importance of family into this space opera for kids, and yes, I cried a little bit at the end. The story concludes nicely, and yet has some unfinished threads in case the author wants to write more in this world.
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I got a kick out of this book, and I’m pretty sure my nit picky complaints are the exact things that make it a great kids books. Something I loved about Lee’s science fiction for adults is the “show me don’t tell me”. There is imagery and lushness, and it feels like story told in images and not words (I didn’t explain that very well. #sorrynotsorry). Dragon Pearl is the opposite – it is mostly tell me and not show me. Told in first person, much of Min’s explanation of what’s going on is her giving a list of the things that she did or items that she picked up. I’ve seen that kind of thing work, but it in this book, it just told me “a ha! She picked up a laser knife, so that is going to be important once she leaves the ship!”. For me, it was a complaint, because I like things to be super subtle. But I think a nine year old reader kinda needs this lack of subtlety?
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I also found the pace of the concluding chapters to be way too fast. I remember reading the end of this book and thinking to myself “there’s a LOT that needs to happen in 15 pages for this to all get wrapped up”. And a LOT did happen. Like, too much. Either the book needed to be 40 pages longer, or some stuff should have been cut from the beginning.

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If you’ve got an eight year old looking for something compelling to read, give them this book. It’s kid appropriate, has a great message about family, I liked that it’s about siblings watching out for each other, and the Korean mythology and magic is really cool. Be warned tho! Dragon Pearl could be the book that gets your kid hooked on science fiction + mythology!

 

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14 Responses to "Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee"

Great review! I have not yet read any of Yoon Ha Lee’s work but I do want to check out some soon.

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if you’re looking for a gentle, fun read, this is the book to start with.

if you’re looking for something more intense and think-y, Ninefox Gambit will scratch that itch.

Liked by 1 person

I really liked this one too. Such a good mashup!

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i wish science fiction books like this had been around when I was a kid!

Liked by 1 person

So true! The Black Cauldron was good (probably my first fantasy book), but this seems so modern and exciting.

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I read Ninefox Gambit and it was not the kind of book for me, though I picked up the audio of this one because it sounds so good even though it is MG.

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Ninefox isn’t for everyone. I didn’t know this one was available on audio, that’s great news! do you know who the narrator is?

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I love his Macheneries of Empire books, I have re-read them all several times so I need to read everything Yoon Ha Lee has ever published. Even if it is very different, it sounds delightful! 😀

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There’s a short story collection called Conservation of Shadows that you might like! the third Machineries book was a little rough for me, can I just re-read the first two books a hundred times?

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I definitely need to read it! 😀 I tried to a few years ago but it was too complicated for me at the time, however, now that I’ve read and enjoyed Yoon Ha Lee’s books, I need to give it a second chance.
And of course you can! 😉

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Sounds interesting – will check it out!

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it was a fun, cute read. if you end up reading it, let me know what you think!

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some of the books reviewed here were free ARCs supplied by publishers/authors/other groups. Some of the books here I got from the library. the rest I *gasp!* actually paid for. I'll do my best to let you know what's what.
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