At surface level, Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee is an amazing novel. It has some of the most amazing world building I’ve ever come across, the society and the history thoroughly intriguing. Those who live in this fantastical world of planets and society are increasingly fascinating in a number of ways. As many exist as a spirit of some kind in relation to a type of animal, from the enticing main character of a fox to the various others from dragon to tiger. I loved everything about the way this story was set up, the backbone to it all was utterly exquisite. And yet, in spite of all that wonder and awe, the story fell flat for me and it all came down to the writing.
Yoon Ha Lee had an amazing idea and the perfect world building skills to go with it, but she fell immeasurably short with her characters and her pacing. You only ever see surface level motivations for anyone and events almost seem to happen for dramatic effect alone. The more interesting characters are introduced and then forgotten about while the more dull ones stick around for longer. And then the novel has these unfortunate portions that just drag whether because it encompassed something that was utterly useless to the overall story and/or plot and just wasn’t all that interesting.
I found myself regularly frustrated with the fluctuation between boring bits that went too slowly and interesting bits that were rushed right through. Mirroring this pattern, the book also fluctuates between scenes that are actually useful to the story and scenes that Dragon Pearl would have been far better without. Yoon Ha Lee also fell into the trap of including annoyingly convenient plot points throughout and much of the story lost its organic feeling as a result. I can’t tell you how irritating it is for a character to, by pure circumstance, end up in precisely the perfect place that they needed to be without any significant effort on their own part.
Min, while she has her moments of being a truly fascinating character, often gets dull and annoying in her own thoughts. She’s sometimes arrogant with no reason and just really hard to find believable in at least a good half of the novel. I think this is largely due to the fact that her “growth” appears to happen all at once and I never really felt like I got to know anything new about her past the initial introduction. I didn’t really care about any of the other characters except, perhaps Jun, Min’s brother. And even my affection for him was surface level and cursory.
Now, don’t get me wrong, Dragon Pearl is not a bad novel. I think it had a lot of potential in a number of areas, from the world building to the inclusivity as far as gender identity is concerned. I really found myself wanting to like it a lot more than I did but found myself struggling for the reasons mentioned above. I think the book just needed a lot more editing prior to publication. Had the pacing and development been better, this might be an entirely different review.
I was provided a free copy of this book via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.