behind the beautiful forevers by Katherine Boo

The book jacket introduces this work as “a landmark work of narrative nonfiction that tells the behind the beautiful foreversdramatic and sometimes heartbreaking story of families striving toward a better life in one of the twenty-first century’s great, unequal cities”. The subtitle of the book is “Life, Death, and Hope in a Mumbai Undercity”. The copyright date is 2012 and the biographical data given for Katherine Boo is: “a staff writer for The New Yorker and a former reporter and editor for The Washington Post. Her reporting has been awarded a Pulitzer Prize, a MacArthur “Genius” grant, and a National Magazine Award for Feature Writing. For the last decade, she has divided her time between the United States and India. This is her first book.”

The book begins with a prologue describing a dramatic event in the life of one of the main protagonists, Abdul. It is dated July 17, 2008 and the first paragraph is:
“Midnight was closing in, the one-legged woman was grievously burned, and the Mumbai police were coming for Abdul and his father. In a slum hut by the international airport, Abdul’s parents came to a decision with an uncharacteristic economy of words. The father, a sick man, would wait inside the trash-strewn, tin-roofed shack where the family of eleven resided. He’d go quietly when arrested. Abdul, the household earner, was the one who had to flee.”

Abdul was between sixteen and nineteen years of age. He was small and jumpy and saw himself as a coward. “He knew all about trash. For nearly all the waking hours of nearly all the years he could remember, he’d been buying and selling to recyclers the things that richer people threw away.” Abdul understood the need to run but beyond that he was unable to see a course of action so he returned home and hid in his garbage that was stored in a lopsided shed adjacent to their family hut.

This storeroom – “His storeroom – 120 square feet, piled high to a leaky roof with the things in this world Abdul knew how to handle. Empty water and whiskey bottles, mildewed newspapers, used tampon applicators, wadded aluminum foil, umbrellas stripped to the ribs by monsoons, broken shoelaces, yellowed Q-tips, snarled cassette tape, torn plastic casings that once held imitation Barbies.”

Eventually Abdul got himself hidden inside his piles of trash against one wall of the shed where he laid down. He would be bitten by mosquitoes and the edges of clamshell packaging would cut into the backs of his thighs but he felt safer there than anywhere else.

And so begins our journey through life in Mumbai’s slums. “Only six of the slum’s three thousand residents had permanent jobs. (The rest, like 85 percent of Indian workers, were part of the informal, unorganized economy.)” The slum was named Annawadi and “sat two hundred yards off the Sahar Airport Road”. “Annawadi itself was nothing special, in the context of the slums of Mumbai. Every house was off-kilter, so less off-kilter looked like straight. Sewage and sickness looked like life.” It had been settled by construction workers in 1991 from the southern Indian state of Tamil Nadu. “Seventeen years later, almost no one in this slum was considered poor by official Indian benchmarks.”

Abdul’s brother Mirchi had a friend named Rahul and Rahul’s mother, Asha, was “a kindergarten teacher with mysterious connections to local politicians and the police.” These connections sometimes got Rahul temporary work at the Intercontinental Hotel across the sewage lake from Annawadi. Such exposure convinced Mirchi that he would not ever want to be a garbage picker like his brother Abdul. Mirchi was in ninth grade at a third-rate Urdu-language private school for which his parents paid three hundred rupees a year. Mirchi’s choices were to study or help Abdul.

Asha, the kindergarten teacher, was 39 years old and aspired to the position of slumlord, a person who ran the slum according to the authorities’ interests. Her husband was an alcohlic and she had raised three children. Her daughter, Manju, did most of the actual teaching. Asha had no schooling past seventh grade and her position was obtained through the present slumlord known as the Corporator. She delivered voters(i.e. votes)to the polls and gathered participants for protests and was now being asked to solve disputes inside the slum. She thought about money all the time and was a shrewd negotiator between her fellow slum dwellers and the authorities. An entrepreneur.

“A government-sponsored women’s self-help group looked somewhat promising, now that she knew how to game it. The program was supposed to encourage financially vulnerable women to pool their savings and make low-interest loans to one another in times of need. But Asha’s self-help group preferred to lend the pooled money at high interest to poorer women who they’d excluded from the collective – the old sewer cleaner who had brought her a sari, for instance.”

Abdul’s father Karem, had tuberculosis. “The concrete plant and all the other construction brought more work to this airport boom-town. Bad lungs were a toll you paid to live near progress.”

Karem and Zehrunisa were about to “make their first deposit on a twelve-hundred-square-foot plot of land in a quiet community in Vasai, just outside the city, where Muslim recyclers predominated. If life and global markets kept going their way, they would soon be landowners, not squatters, in a place where Abdul was pretty sure no one would call him garbage.”

The above barely touches the surface of what is told and what is exposed about life in one of Mumbai’s slums early in this century. If you have read anything about Mumbai in the newspapers or on the net or elsewhere, you need to read this book. You need to meet Abdul and his friends, his parents and his neighbours including the one-leg whom Abdul will be accused of assaulting and worse. Katherine Boo will make you care about each and every one of these people. You need to know what Asha tells her daughter Manju, who is about to become a college graduate:

“The big people think that because we are poor we don’t understand much”…Asha understood plenty. She was a chit in a national game of make-believe, in which many of India’s old problems – poverty, disease, illiteracy, child labor – were being aggressively addressed. Meanwhile the other old problems, corruption and exploitation of the weak by the less weak, continued with minimal interference.”

This is a beautifully sad and informative book with wonderfully real and courageous people you will be proud and honoured to meet.

 

The Liar’s Gospel by Naomi Alderman

“They knew it would be that day. It is impossible to follow the fortunes of a battle closely without knowing when they are reaching their conclusion. Especially when that battle concerns the city in which you live.
They had fought off the army as long as they were able. They had the advantage, to begin with: the walls were high, the ramparts thick. As the army worked below, filling the ravine with boulders and felled trees, they hurled down rocks and arrows upon them. They worked in shifts, night and day, pulling the matter out of the moat by the cellar doors as quickly as it was placed there. They struggled. But they were undone by God.
…They had known it must come and yet had not believed it until they saw. The impregnable wall was breached. Then there were cries. Bring men, bring fire, bring swords, keep the invaders back!
…The Romans swept through the sanctuary so quickly that they themselves seemed surprised, even alarmed, at how easily the thing had been done.”

“…Pompey motioned his men to lower their weapons.
…The centurion drew his sword, grabbed the priest’s chin, pulling it up and back, and slit the man’s throat.”

“…This had been the last offering made by a free man in the Temple.”

The High Priest was replaced by Pompey’s friend: “a Jewish prince who had been most cooperative during the siege and whose men had fought for Rome. It was a fitting gift for a loyal ally. This business concluded, Pompey left a garrison at Jerusalem and headed back to Rome in triumph.
This was how it happened. And everything that came afterwards followed from this.”

The rest of the book is divided into four sections and an Epilogue. The four sections are titled Miryam (mother of Yehoshuah/Jesus), Iehuda from Qeriot (Judas Iscariot), Caiphas (High Priest at the time of the crucifixion) and Bar-Avo (Barabbas).

Miryam’s viewpoint is presented through interaction with a young man named Gidon from Liar's GospelYaffo who has come to Natzaret in search of the village of Yehoshuah the Teacher, “to find his friends and family here, to meet them and to befriend them.” Miryam replies to this with “He was a traitor, a rabble-leader, a rebel, a liar and a pretender to the throne. We have tried to forget him here.” But Gidon has re-opened Miryam’s memories of her son:

“She remembers the screaming trees that night.
She thinks of them many days, and of what happens to those who  challenge and fight and argue. And how little this boy seems to understand of where the words will lead.
She remembers the screaming trees and  she thinks: if she can bear not to speak to him, it will be better for him. But she knows she does not have that strength.”

Thus Gidon becomes the means through which Miryam’s relationship with her son Yehoshua is conveyed to the reader. She tells him that if he wants to learn there are better teachers to be found than herself but he replies that he has already sought out a teacher and that teacher cannot teach him anymore. And so “she teaches him what she had learned when her parents took her to hear the great Rabbi Hillel speak, that our duty to love each other is the highest of all the commandments of God. That our duty of charity extends even to our own bodies, and we must care for them because our souls are guests in them.”

She asks Gidon, “Who are your people?”
He says, “My family are those who believe what I believe.”

“She has heard of such groups. The Essenes are one –  they live together and follow the same customs although they are not kin – and there are other small groups, those who follow the same principles or who gather around a teacher.
“Amd where are they?” she says, because she thinks he will say that it is agroup who live in the caves, or in the desert, or in the wooded hills near Juerusalem.
“We are scattered,” he says. “Now we who followed your son Yehoshuah are wandering. Teaching. We are spreading his words.”

And so, through Miryam and Gidon the reader gets a sense of life in Yehoshua’s village immediately after Yehoshua’s death. The events in Jerusalem at the time of his death are also revisited through Miryam’s experiences/memories. This would be particularly interesting to anyone who has read Colm Toibin’s The Testament of Mary (see archives for April 2014).

The other three sections are every bit as interesting and informative as the section on Miryam. In the market place Iehuda (Judas) overhears strangers discussing what has happened to Yehoshua’s followers. “At one point she implies that some of her friends here in Caesarea send and receive letters from dispersed disciples. He has heard that there are rebels here, still – Caesarea is a Roman town, the capital of the region, a waypoint for trade, so a good place for all kinds of conspiracy. But it is a mark of how little they accomplished that it is not dangerous for her to mention Yehoshua in the market square. No one is afraid of those who followed him.” Iehuda even hears himself and his own death discussed : “”He threw himself from a rocky cliff onto a field of stones.” He thinks about what he has heard and considers contacting his old friends and explaining his actions (he led the Romans to Yehoshua and identified him for them). He recalls his relationship with Yehoshua: “There had been others travelling with Yehoshua before Iehuda arrived, but Iehuda knew that he was special to him. Yehoshua could tell him things the others could not understand.”

The sections on Caiaphas and Bar-Avo were particularly interesting as I had not read any other literary attempts to present them. Caiphas has what he sees as more important concerns to deal with such as the threat to temple finances from the Romans who want money for an aqueduct. Caiphas recalls seeing Yehoshua on three occasions and he had concluded that “the man is entirely mad, but it may still be possible to save him.” Witnesses shouted that Yehoshua had spoken against the Temple and had called himself the Messiah, the rightful king. “Under Rome, there is no king but the Emperor and those whom it pleases the Emperor to set on little thrones for a time.” The situation is presented that if he had only remained silent the case would have been dismissed. Even then he might have been saved but Pilate got wind of what was happening and Caiaphas had to hand Yehosua over to Rome’s judgment. Yehoshua was executed and Bar-Avo was released. Another fascinating chapter of the story.

Th author writes this in her acknowledgments: “…after I had finished researching this novel my mother, Marion, happened to find her father’s Victorian copies of Josephus. Eliezer Freed, my grandfather, who died when I was two years old, was a novelist and a short-story writer, fluent in ancient languages, a self-taught musician, inventor and scholar. I flicked through his Josephus with mild curiosity about differences in translation. And there, in his own handwriting, I found that my grandfather had marked up precisely the passages that I had been looking at: the ones about Jesus. He had the same question mark in the margin, the same part bracketed where we both, I imagine, made the same frown at the same moment.”

And this from the author’s Epilogue: “Storytellers know that people enjoy tales that explain to them the origin of things, the way things come to be the way they are. This story is no different. Every story has an author, some teller of lies. Do not imagine that a storyteller is unaware of the effect of every word she chooses. Do not suppose for a moment that an impartial observer exists.”

Also from the Epilogue: “Storytellers know that every story as at least partly a lie. Every story could be told in four different ways, or forty or four thousand. Every emphasis or omission is a kind of lie, shaping a moment to make a point. So when, between thirty-five and seventy years after Yehoshua’s death, Mark and then Matthew and then Luke the complier and then John the theologian came to tell their stories it was as well for them to exonerate the Romans who ruled the empire they lived in, and to blame the Jews, whose wickedness had clearly caused the destruction of their holy city…nothing happened without a reason.”

This story’s author may or may not be impartial but she certainly offers a very credible explanation of how some things came to be the way they are. Highly recommended to those interested in another version of this event and time.

The Dagger Between Her Teeth by Jennifer LoveGrove

Dagger Between Her TeethThis was Jennifer LoveGrove’s first poetry collection and was published by ECW Press in 2002. I read it because I accidentally discovered it on my poetry shelf and it was a complete surprise to me that I owned a copy. I knew the author’s name because I had recently read and reviewed her first novel, Watch How You Walk and been very impressed by it. (see my review by clicking on the archives on the left side of this page for February 2014).

Here’s some of what the author had to say about her collection at http://jenniferlovegrove.wordpress.com/the-dagger-between-her-teeth/ : “It features burning barns, drunken Christmases, scars, hospitals, serial killers, and, eventually, the possibilities of self preservation and hope. Powerfully topical, it confronts notions of violence, both physical and emotional, by focusing on a woman’s strength of will and capacity for ferocity. In The Dagger Between Her Teeth, I resurrect and reinvent the dramatic young lives of two eighteenth-century pirates, Anne Bonny and Mary Read.”

Do you know about these women? It seems they were the only women pirates in the Western Hemisphere. Anne Bonney (sometimes Bonny) was born in Ireland, March 8, 1689. Her mother was a servant to William Cormac, her father and a lawyer by profession. The family immigrated to a plantation in Charleston, South Carolina in the late 1600s. Stories have it that at age 13 years, Anne stabbed a servant girl with a table knife. She married James Bonny who was possibly more interested in her father’s estate than in Anne: Anne’s father disowned her destroying Bonny’s hopes no doubt. The Bonnys moved to the Bahamas  prior to 1718 and Anne left James Bonny for Captain Jack Rackham.

Mary Reade was born in Plymouth, England; her father was a sailor who never returned to port. Her mother disguised her as a boy and went to her mother-in-law in London for financial support for the child. The grandmother pledged a crown a week and Mary continued to pass as a boy. She serve as a footboy to a French woman; on a man-of-war; and in both a foot regiment and a horse regiment in Flanders. She eventually married a soldier and ran an inn in Holland until her husband dies. She reverted to a man’s role and hired on a merchant ship which was captured by pirates and, in turn, was captured by Captain Jack Rackham’s crew and quickly became fast friends with Anne Bonney.

Legend has it that Anne and Mary were “fierce hell cats” with reputations for violent tempers and ferocious fighting, more ruthless and bloodthirsty than any other crew members. They were captured in 1720 by a British navy sloop – the man-of-war Albion – and taken to Jamaica for trial. (see Wikipedia for “The Legend of Anne & Mary”).

It seems both Anne and Mary “pleaded their bellies” and were granted mercy because they were pregnant. It is believed that Mary died in prison of a fever or during childbirth but there is no record of Anne’s release or of her execution. There has been much speculation suggesting that her father ransomed her or that she returned to her husband or that she changed her name and continued life as a pirate was bandied about but no evidence was ever found to support any of these theories.

Part One of LoveGrove’s book includes the following poem about Anne’s early teen years entitled With a Carving Knife:

Meanwhile, your birth rattles the town,
averted eyes – you’re stashed
with the servants’ gossip.
Tongues flickering: the lawyer’s
bastard girl got some temper.

You steal kitchen knives and duel
stable boys.  Nick their pocked cheeks
and laugh, thirteen years old, a glaring head
taller, illegitimate daughter.

Daddy creeps down midnight
hallways to the maid’s room, until
one night he peels back her quilt
and finds instead his clever wife.

The kitchen girl, mouse eyes beading –
Nobody wants you here, anyway,
pink face bloated with smirks –
You’re a disgrace.

A hot palm splits her
lips; you warned her
didn’t you? But still she squeaks,
You’re daddy doesn’t want you
loud and ugly as a boy.


Half the morning spent shining
that carving knife you slide
from your skirts, her belly
spreads into bright sunbursts
and your red hair laced tight
with spiders, sugar and spice,
Irish eyelashes edged in ice.

And describing a scene in a bar before Anne marries James Bonny:

The barmaid tries toss her
to the storm,
instead loses two
front teeth in the scuffle,
split from her jaw,
rattling Anne’s skirts.

The night Anne marries James Bonny
she gives him a necklace, both talisman
and warning, two teeth
strung up, dangling.

Part Two begins with a quote from The Book of Lilith as well as one from Adrienne Rich and Part Three begins with a quote from Sylvia Plath’s “Tulips”. Here’s a poem I liked from Part Three called Bad Association:

When I was ten my great-grandma wasn’t talking
to my grandma because she wasn’t talking to my
aunt who we weren’t allowed
to talk to because she got

disfellowshipped for divorcing
my uncle, a truck driver
who used to come into the house to
get money for the hookers
waiting in the truck in the driveway.

At the meetings, the elders would tell us
that people who aren’t Jehovah’s Witnesses
are bad association –
because they do things that are pagan
like celebrate Christmas and birthdays.

In the Bible, the only birthday party
is when John the Baptist
gets his head cut off.

Part Four begins with a quote from Janette Turner Hospital’s The Last Magician: “It was as though they could both smell tumult coming, it was as though Cat stank of something that was either cataclysm or omnipotence and they knew it.” I really enjoyed the first poem in this section called Sabrina. It begins:

Wore hot plastic colours
high heels
& a peacock feather grin.
Brought cleavage to librarian
& taught me more than the Dewey decimal system.

Needless to say, the writer’s mother didn’t want her to visit Sabrina “after she moved away”.

I haven’t much practice at reviewing poetry but I know this much: I like many of these poems and I keep getting drawn back to them and discovering new things each time. As Word, put it in September 2002: “LoveGrove goes for the jugular. There is no question…Yes, the dagger between her teeth is sharp indeed.”

 

My Ghosts by Mary Swan

My Ghosts“A house can be haunted by those who were never there

If there is where they were missed.”           -Louis Macneice

“In her room at the top of the house, Clare is thinking about time. Thinking with her eyes closed in the pokey little space up under the roof, where things scuttle and rustle. Stifling in the summer and far too cold in the winter and not anything like the room that will be hers a few years from now, when they all move to the new double house on Pembroke Street. The one where the scent of lilacs drifts through all the open windows. But that’s in the future, and the future, like the past, is nowhere in her mind. Instead she’s thinking about time in a different way. Thinking about what it is, and why it is. Thinking about how it can be Eternal, and yet gone forever. About how it is a thing that has carried on for everyone else these past hours or days while she was lying in her narrow bed, thinking nothing at all.”

Clare taught at the school for a year and was set to go back again in the fall but that was when the sickness came upon her and she spends most of the next year in bed. Through her eyes during that year, we are introduced and become almost intimate with the members of her family. “The room has two small windows, east and west, and when the word morning floats into her mind she knows that it’s there because of the faint bar of light that falls on her quilt through the panes to her right….They each have a quilt that their mother has made, sleep beneath patterns of worn-out clothing. The blue is from a shirt wee Alan wore before he died…a story they all know…she realizes how far one word has brought her, and she closes her eyes and falls back down into the dark.”

“Single words, patterns, colours…intricate connections to specific people, events involving them, images of the past, whose past, what words, which patterns. Ghostlike memories floating in and out, periods of deep sleep in between.”

“She wonders, idly, if this is what it is to lose your mind. When asked if she is feeling better she replies that she doesn’t know: “I don’t seem to know anything at all.””

Factual bits intrude: her mother died two years ago; her father cutting and stitching fine suits in the front room; Ross telling her about Eskimos; math problems that came in the form of a story; Ross’ departure; her father’s long illness; Aunt Peach who didn’t know anyone’s name. The reader meets the whole family as each in turn climbs the stairs to visit and/or check on Clare. Kez and Nan in turn bring food and help her wash and when one is missing Clare fears her fever has been passed on. But Nan has hurt her knee “dancing in the kitchen” and Ben the oldest boy at home was there and Charlie “had stopped by and was showing them some steps he said were all the rage.”

Nan and Kez “call each other Moon and Jug, but no one else does”. Nan has a round face and Kez has ears that protrude. “They were born as close together as they could be, without being twins; impossible to think of one without the other, even though they’re nothing alike. Charlie “brings her a book on repairing clocks and watches” and “when he’s gone she turns the pages, looks at the diagrams” and “covers the pages and tries to see it in her mind”. Ben “talks about what’s gone on at the Telegraph Office, tells her about an idea he’s working on, switches and currents and relays” but lately he has been drifting off “with a little smile on his lips, and once he asked about hair combs.” Gradually we come to know these siblings of Clare’s in the same ways that she knows them.

Time and stories move on. “The space between them now is tumbled with separate memories, from the time Nan was gone, and with their separate thoughts. But in those days they were together all day and all night, and Kez says, “How can you not remember that, when I do?” She thinks how most of the pleasure goes out of the remembering when there’s no one to really share it with.”

There is a mystery surrounding Clare’s background: as she lay in bed “the questions of who she really was flared and she tried to work it out for herself, knowing no one would give her a proper answer. When she was small her father said the fairies brought her, and once Kez told her that they’d picked her out from a bin in a shop…the most her mother ever said was that it was a thing to talk about when Clare was older.” She thought about the most likely answers: was she Ross’s child and had he been banished or did she belong to one of her sisters? She continues to ponder words like morning and time but she knows “the words are just another knot on the long string of memories that plays through her mind.”

Was she a stray taken in for no real reason except as a charitable action, nothing to do with “love or belonging”. Was she “plucked from a tree like an apple or fallen off the back of a coal cart”? “She didn’t seem to remember anything herself, and that was a blessing, so their mother said once given the state of the room they took her from and the daft baggage who handed her over.

Mysteries, memories, marriages, births. Houses, places, clocks and telegraph stations. Births and deaths. Stories and more stories. Nan and Kez, Charlie, Ben, Edie, Robert, Angus, Ross, Aunt Peach, Bella, John, Clare and Lizzie.

“It just wasn’t something we talked about,” Clare had said. “All that family history – it just wasn’t important.”

“The last time Lizzie was home she’d smoothed out a roll of photocopies, records of births and marriages and burials, written out by a long-dead hand. “Keep them for awhile,” Lizzie said, “you’ll get interested,” and Clare thought it unlikely, but was grateful. It surprises her, always, this kind of evidence that Lizzie has been thinking about her, worrying about her maybe. That their roles have been – not reversed, but somehow balanced out.”

“All those ghostly possibilities, with nowhere left to hide.” In the corners of an empty house, “she keeps catching flickers of movement from the corner of her eye.”

It’s about my ghosts and your ghosts. It’s about connections. It’s about making meaning.

Eona, The Last Dragoneye by Alison Goodman

This is the sequel to Eon, Dragoneye Reborn which I reviewed here early in the month of April 2014. (Go to Archives listed on home page in the left hand column) At that time, I had a copy of Eona in my possession but felt obligated to finish some other reads before delving into the sequel immediately. The latter disciplinary action was not easy and if you go back and read my review of Eon you will get a sense of why that was the case. I am glad that I waited: it made the experience even more delicious.

It is probably only fair to declare upfront that I have a soft spot for all books about dragons. If you do not have such a soft spot and are ambivalent about dragons, I can only offer you my deepest sympathies and encourage you to look elsewhere for your reading pleasure.

Now, to the continuing saga of the celestial dragons and Eona the newest dragoneye and her crimson companion who has not appeared in 500 years, the Mirror Dragon.

It should be noted that some sources have indicated that this book is a standalone or can be treated as such! Let me dispel that notion immediately: unless you don’t like to know the background of a story you are reading then go ahead and expect to be completely at a loss about what is happening in this book. If you are a serious follower of dragons then you would never question reading the first book first so we shall say no more.

From the Preface written by Prahn(teacher,Imperial Librarian and tutor of His Majesty, Kygo, rightful heir to the Imperial throne), son of Mikor,  “on this twentieth day of the new Rat Dragon”: “I can confirm a report that Lord Ido – the Rat Dragoneye – was instrumental in killing almost all of his fellow Dragoneyes and their apprentices in the quest for their power…I saw the bodies and we have all felt the tremors in the earth…Now the only Dragoneye Lords alive are the treacherous Lord Ido and the new Mirror Dragoneye, Lord Eon, who was seen escaping the palace. Lord Ido’s apprentice – Dillon – is also believed to have escaped.

…No one knows the whereabouts of Lord Eon. I pray that he is hidden far from the City. I know that he was under the protection of Ryko, one of the elite Shadow Men guards, and Lady Dela, a twin soul with a man’s body and a woman’s spirit…it can only be hoped that their combined skills will keep the young Dragoneye safe. Amid all the fear and lies circulating the Palace, a foul whisper has arisen that Lord Eon, a brother eunuch, is in fact a girl.” As readers, of course,Eona we have more information than Teacher Prahn and we are much more optimistic about the future of the youngest Dragoneye but we shall let the teacher continue as he updates or reminds us about the story to date.”

“I do not know how our Empire can survive with only two Dragoneyes and their beasts to control the elements, especially when one Dragoneye is an imprisoned traitor and the other an untrained boy. Although Lord Eon is quick and clever, he cannot control the earth energies by himself. For as long as can be remembered, it has taken the combined power of eleven Dragoneyes and their beasts to nurture the land. When the missing twelfth dragon – the Mirror Dragon – returned from exile and chose Lord Eon as the first Mirror Dragoneye in five hundred years, it was seen as an omen of renewed strength and good fortune. I pray that this is so, and that the return of the Mirror Dragon to the Circle of Twelve spirit beasts is not an omen of annihilation. A resistance force has long been gathering against Lord Sethon’s brutal war-mongering, but now they will have to stand against the entire army, and such a struggle will tear our land apart.”

In addition to the political setting described above there is the problem of the ten bereft dragons whose dragoneyes have been murdered. The only two remaining are Lord Ido’s blue Rat Dragon in the north-northwest and Eon’s red dragon in the east: “The Mirror Dragon. The queen. The other ten dragons had still not returned from wherever spirit beasts fled to grieve.”

“Tentatively, I formed our shared name in my mind – Eona – and called her power. Her answer was immediate: a rush of golden energy that cascaded through my body. I rode the rising joy, reveling in the union. …Deep within me, a sweet greeting unfurled – the wordless touch of her dragon spirit against mine – leaving the arm spice of cinnamon on my tongue.”

Then an attack by the returning dragons crashed into them: “sorrow tore at my hold on earth and heaven, I was spinning, the bonds of mind and body stretched and splitting. I had to get out or I would be destroyed.” Then she realized they would not attack their queen but that meant there was a new problem. “Perhaps this was the start of the String of Pearls, the weapon that brought together the power of all twelve dragons – a weapon born from the death of every Dragoneye except one.”

And so Eona begins to reflect upon what she needs to do. She has to learn to direct the Mirror Dragon’s power and also the force of ten spirit-beasts “reeling from the brutal slaughter of their Dragoneyes”. She has to study the red folio that has been passed to her through her ancestor Kinra which is written in Woman Script and which holds the secret of her hereditary power passed through the female bloodline, the only hereditary Dragoneye power in the circle of twelve. Eona’s union with the Mirror Dragon had heeled her lame hip and she could now run and walk without pain or limp but she was facing incredible challenges.  Her friend and supporter Ryko was dying of terrible injuries. Rain, storms, floods and earthquakes were threatening the land. And their General, Tozay, was warning that they must move on before Lord Sethon’s armies were upon them.

Alison GoodmanAll of the above information is conveyed in the first eleven pages in the second installment of this exciting story. Oh, and there is romance too but you will have to read about that as it is unfair and unkind to reveal all. And what of the future of Eona and the Mirror Dragon? What happens to Lord Ido? Dillon? Ryko? Dela? Vida…oh, sorry, you haven’t met her yet.

Do visit Alison Goodman’s website http://www.alisongoodman.com.au/ to learn more about her and her writing.