dragon pearl – yoon ha lee | review

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

Published January 15th 2019 by Rick Riordan Presents
Age Range: Middle Grade
Genre: Fantasy, Science Fiction
Representation: Korean, non-binary SC, mention of poly relationship


Rating: 4 out of 5.


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.


trigger and content warnings:

Since I’ve never read a middle grade (space) science fiction before, I didn’t know what to expect. Dragon Pearl was excellent. Not only is it a space adventure with ghosts and shapeshifting, it’s filled with deceiving and betrayals. At only 13 years old, Min planet-hopped in search of her older brother, Jun, who went missing despite the dangers or consequences.

Yoon Ha Lee’s writing was easily immersive. There weren’t difficult science fiction jargons that I couldn’t understand. Everything is laid out plain and simple for readers to comprehend. The pacing was just right as well. Something was consistently happening around and to Min. Additionally, in Dragon Pearl, queerness is seamlessly included into the universe with a non-binary side character and a mention of a polyamorous relationship.

Korean folklore played a huge part in the plot. In this world, supernatural beings live amongst humans. At the bottom of the supernatural hierarchy are the gumiho. The nine-tailed foxes are perceived to be deceptive and sly, hence, they often live in secrecy. Never revealing who they are, the gumiho were thought to be extinct, unlike the dragons, tigers and, goblins. Before starting the book, I wondered how the author was going to incorporate Korean mythology into a science fiction book, but I was pleasantly surprised at how perfectly blended the combination was.

Focused on Min’s journey to find her missing brother, there wasn’t any romance subplot which I really liked. I mean, 13 years old Min doesn’t need that need her life. Despite the absence of Jun, almost for the entire book, Min’s flashbacks consisted of fond memories with him just showed how close they were before he left for the space force. Min wasn’t left to her own devices as she made some friends on the way. The friendship was tested due to the circumstances so it was interesting to see how Min navigates in the particular situation. Using her resourcefulness and trickiness, Min managed to surpass all her obstacles.

Overall, a really cool read about a young girl trying to find the truth behind her brother’s disappearance and maybe treason. Yoon Ha Lee has brilliantly woven Korean mythology and space fiction together. I had lots of fun reading Min’s adventures.

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