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Dragon Pearl

Review

Dragon Pearl

DRAGON PEARL is the latest in Disney’s lineup of Rick Riordan Presents, an imprint dedicated to celebrating mythology and heritage from underrepresented backgrounds. Yoon Ha Lee’s novel is a middle grade space opera blended with Korean mythology, shot through with elements of cli-fi and high-stakes adventure. It’s refreshing, clever, thrilling and one of my favorite sci-fi novels I’ve read in the past couple years --- of any age range.

Min can’t wait to get off her planet, the underserved, impoverished Jinju. It’s covered in dust and barely gets enough water or power, and all it means for her are chores --- and hiding who she really is. Min is a gumiho, a fox spirit, like the rest of her family. Like all foxes, she has the ability to Charm others and shapeshift into other forms or even inanimate objects. Other supernatural beings, such as goblins, shamans, or dragons, are accepted by human beings and largely integrated into society. Foxes, however, suffer age-old prejudices. They’re believed to be untrustworthy. To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that the family hide their true identities, and live in human form.

"Lee has crafted a well-imagined, accessible, inviting universe, with strong and inviting world-building. DRAGON PEARL is...an absolute masterpiece."

Min can’t wait until she’s old enough to join the Space Forces like her brother Jun --- she might not be able to live openly as a fox, but she’ll get to leave behind her planet and her stifling, judgmental relatives!

When word reaches Min and her mother that Jun deserted his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl --- the powerful, life-giving orb that could revive Jinju and so many other planets --- Min senses something is amiss. Jun would never betray orders...at least, not unless he had a very good reason. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Her quest leads her far from home, through mercenaries and space pirates. She ends up shapeshifting in order to disguise herself as Jang, a cadet in the Space Forces. She teams up with his friends. Sujin is a goblin, a dokkaebi, who uses “they” pronouns. They’re fun-loving and brave, and they wield a magical spork --- very handy for conjuring snacks during long missions. Hanuel is a dragon spirit. She’s rules-oriented and fiercely loyal, with the ability to control weather and water.

As Min delves deeper into the truth about Jun and the Dragon Pearl, she uncovers darker realities than she expected. How deep does the deception go? And can she keep deceiving her own newfound friends about who she really is?

DRAGON PEARL reads a little older than some of the other Rick Riordan Presents titles, making it an excellent title for readers transitioning from MG to young YA. Min is a capable, well-wrought protagonist. Lee has crafted a well-imagined, accessible, inviting universe, with strong and inviting world-building. DRAGON PEARL is a cinematic thrill-ride that never loses sight of the heart of its compelling characters, be they gumiho, ghosts, dragons or goblins! It’s a ghost story, a coming of age story and an absolute masterpiece. It’s very readable, and a ton of fun! It takes an accessible arc --- the quest to track down a lost loved one and recover a powerful magical object --- and tells it through the intricate, magical storyscape of Korean mythology.

DRAGON PEARL was deeply satisfying and conclusive, but my fingers are crossed for a sequel! I would love to follow these characters and Lee’s storytelling through more adventures in the Thousand Worlds.

Reviewed by Maya Gittelman on January 30, 2019

Dragon Pearl
by Yoon Ha Lee