Review: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

I hesitated to pick up Dragon Pearl because I sometimes struggle to stay invested in books aimed at a younger audience, but the description eventually convinced me to give the book a try (along with how much I enjoy the author’s other work ) and I’m glad I did.

The cover is brilliant, eye catching, reflecting a real scene from the book, and also accurately reflecting the science-fantasy feel of the book

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.”

I enjoyed the futuristic, Korean, science-fantasy blend that Yoon Ha Lee writes so well; and I really enjoyed Min’s determination and courage. The book explores prejudice and morality, but never in a way that seems overly violent or otherwise inappropriate for the age group at which it is targeted.

The plot gets moved along by coincidences or good luck a couple more times than I’d prefer, but I enjoy the world that Yoon Ha Lee created, and if Dragon Pearl was given a sequel, I would most likely read it as well. I enjoyed the way ghosts and foxes moved through the world that Yoon Ha Lee created, and the ending of the novel (while foreshadowed) was surprising and satisfying.

This book is (for obvious reasons) fairly different from Yoon Ha Lee’s Machineries of Empire series, but I think readers who enjoyed Phoenix Extravagant will enjoy Dragon Pearl. Due to the distinct Korean influences worked into the book, I haven’t read much that is truly reminiscent of Dragon Pearl, but I’d recommend the book to those who enjoyed Gail Carriger’s Finishing School series, the Grisha series by Leigh Bardugo, Jim Butcher’s Aeronaut’s Windlass, or any fantasy with an entertaining plot and a focus on family, culture, and finding your way in the world.

If the themes explored in Dragon Pearl sound interesting but you prefer novels aimed at adults rather than middle-grade fiction, Gail Carriger’s Vixen Ecology (a short story set after book 3 of the San Andreas Shifter series) is available now with profits going to charity through to the end of the month. It also focuses on a kitsune, and similar themes of family and finding your way in the world are explored within the series; though with explicit romantic and sexual relationships also driving the plot.


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