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“A small voice in my head suggested that I stop relying on my magic to solve problems for me, because at some point all of this was going to catch up to me in a bad way,” Min. —Dragon Pearl
by Yoon Ha Lee
Thirteen-year-old Min lives an ordinary life. No one knows that her family comes from a long line of fox spirits. Her family hides their powers, and Min’s mother doesn’t allow any of them to use fox-magic. Instead of shape-shifting and using Charm, Min always appears as a human.
Min dreams of leaving her dust-ridden planet and joining her brother Jun in the Space Forces. When Min gets older, they hope to see more of the Thousand Worlds together. Then an investigator appears and informs the family that Jun has deserted. The investigator thinks Jun is searching for the mythical Dragon Pearl that is rumored to have tremendous power.
After reading a strange message from Jun, Min knows that something is wrong. Min runs away to search for her brother. During her journey, she will meet gamblers, pirates, and ghosts. She will have to use deception, sabotage, and magic. Min will need all of her courage to complete her journey. Will she be able to find the answers she needs to find her brother?
Sci-fi enthusiasts will enter an imaginative world that includes Korean mythology. The Korean mythology is seamlessly integrated into Min’s story and helps create an interesting world. The story is a perfect blend of mystery, action, and space travel. Although most of the story is fast-paced, parts of the story are difficult to read because of long descriptions.
Dragon Pearl is told from Min’s point of view, which allows the reader to understand her thought process as she searches for her brother. Middle school readers will enjoy reading about Min because of her daring actions and can-do attitude.
Although Min has spent her life hiding her magical abilities, once she leaves her house, she consistently relies on Charm. Readers may question how she can be so skilled using her Charm when she has had no practice. Another bothersome inconsistency is that Min notices when other supernaturals use their powers, but no one notices when Min uses her Charm. Even though Min uses her Charm to deceive others, she is still a likable character. At the end of the book, Min realizes that she should rely less on magic, but it would have been nice to see Min use her brain to solve some problems throughout the story, instead of always using Charm.
The ending is a little predictable, but there are enough surprises to satisfy readers. Middle school readers who are interested in mythology may want to begin with the Percy Jackson Series or Aru Shah and the End of Time, which have better character development as well as humor. Overall, Dragon Pearl creates an interesting world filled with magic. The danger, magic, and mystery will draw readers into the story and keep them engaged. However, some readers may struggle with the long descriptions and difficult vocabulary.
- Some people wear “a small symbol next to the name that let me know they should be addressed neutrally, as neither female or male.” One of the characters, a goblin, is gender neutral and referred to as they.
- When an investigator finds out that Min is a fox, he “snatched me up by the throat. I scrabbled for air, my fingernails lengthening into claws, and tore desperately at his fingers.” Min turns into a block of metal and fell on the man’s foot. When he lets her go, “I snatched a saucepan and brought it crashing down against his head. He fell without a sound.”
- Mercenaries attack the ship that Min is on. Min “cried as a burst of violet fire hit us in the side.” The scene takes place over nine pages. Someone pulls Min “behind the copilot’s seat. Great timing: A bolt sizzled over me, where my head had been just a second earlier. . . Two more bolts flew over my head. I peeked around the side of the seat and fired once at the first shadowy figure I saw. I heard a yelp.” Min is hit and “slid out of consciousness.” Later, Min discovers that one cadet died.
- A person accidently crashed into Min, who is appearing as a boy. Min “emitted a strange yell when the person’s knee accidently connected with my crotch. I was going to have to be more careful about guarding that part of my body!”
- A space ship is attacked, and the Goblin is injured. “Sunjin jumped back from their workstation, clutching their side. An enormous burning line of light had seared the goblin from the neck all the way to their waist, as though someone had slashed them with a whip of fire. . .”
- Min discovers that the colonist, “stopped making offerings to the pox spirits, and the spirits took their vengeance by wiping out the colony.”
- Min helps two mercenaries escape. They get on a ship and the pilot, “blew open the hatch with a missile at short range. . . Acceleration slammed us sideways as our ship veered hard to starboard, then rolled.”
- Min turns into a bird, and someone shoots at her. “Fire pierced my right wing. . . I plummeted, struggling. . . The pain made me light headed.”
- A man grabs Min. “I stifled a gasp as his fingers dug into my flesh and he yanked me toward him, wrenching my injured shoulder.” The ghost helps Min escape.
Drugs and Alcohol
- When Min knocks the investigator unconscious, her family discusses using a “subtle poison” to kill him.
- Min questions a guard, who tells her that he got his information from a “drunk spacer who was spilling secrets last night.”
- Min meets a guard who had, “the flushed skin of someone who had been drinking too much cheap wine, and he reeked of the stuff.”
- For a few hours, Min works in a gambling hall where she serves wine and uses “Charm to encourage customers to relax.” While working, she gives wine to customers.
- When Min is injured, she is given a dose of painkiller.
- The main character is a fox spirit, who lives as a human. A fox spirit can, “shape-shift into whatever she wants: human, animal, even a dining room table.” Fox spirits can choose to be female or male. Fox spirits can also use Charm “to manipulate human emotions and make people see things that aren’t there.”
- Besides fox spirits, there are other supernatural creatures, “such as dragons, who can control weather, and goblins, who can conjure things out of thin air.”
- Shamans can communicate with ancestors and spirits.
- Throughout the story, Min uses Charm to disguise herself. The first time, she made, “myself plainer, drabber, harder to see.” She also uses Charm to turn into an inanimate object several times. The majority of the story, she disguises herself as a cadet who had been killed. The cadet is a ghost and gave Min permission to pretend to be him.
- The story revolves around the Fourth Colony, “whose entire population had perished when they’d angered disease spirits a few centuries ago.” The ghosts of the colonists haunt the planet.
- A ghost is one of the supporting characters. “Ghosts weren’t necessarily unfriendly, but many of them became vengeful over time, especially if the unfinished business that bound them to the world of the living went unresolved.” Later in the story, the reader learns that “most ghosts were bound near the site of whatever had felled them.”
- Ghosts can be dangerous because, “wrongful death warped people’s souls and made them vengeful toward the living.”
- Several times, the goblin uses his magical sport to create food. The first time the goblin uses the magic, “Sunjin waved the sport, and a box of chocolate-dipped cookies magically appeared.”
- People are looking for the Dragon Pearl, which could, “transform an entire barren world, give it forests and seas and make it suitable for habitation, it could just as easily destroy a world, turn it into a lifeless desert.”
- Both people and space ships have an energy flow, which affects luck. “Just like you could have flows of good or back luck in a room, depending on how furniture and ornaments were arranged, there could be flows of good or bad luck across star systems and beyond.”
- Min meets her brother’s ghost. “Through the disheveled locks I recognized the face—what remained of it, anyway. Half of it flickered with ghostly flames, as though he were on fire. Between that, and the hair, I could barely see his surviving eye.”
- A shaman was “going to rid the Fourth Colony of its ghosts by singing us into the underworld.” The ghosts stop her.
- Min uses the Dragon Pearl to give the ghosts a proper burial. “The ghosts shimmered, and I could sense their joy.”
- A pilot whispers a “spacer’s prayer that heaven would see us safely through the gate.”
- When Min’s escape pod crashes, she “prayed to every ancestor I knew to watch over us.”
- Min sees that the dead colonist “didn’t have gruesome lesions of smallpox, the disease that gods had once wielded to teach humankind respect. . .”