The Eidolon Chronicles (The Secret Country and The Shadow World)

Eidolon 1 By Jane Johnson [Series at LibrarythingSeries at Amazon]

Ben’s world is changed when a very demanding little cat named Iggy begs Ben to free him from the evil Mr Dodds’s Pet Emporium. Iggy, it seems, hails from the magical world of Eidolon, where Dodds – known in Eidolon as the Dodman, a terrifying monster with the head of a vicious dog – has been kidnapping magical creatures to sell as exotic pets in England. Worse, Ben’s own mother is Eidolon’s rightful queen, and as magic is siphoned from the land by the Dodman’s cruel trade, Ben’s mother grows steadily sicker. Her only hope – and Eidolon’s – is for her to return to Eidolon, stop the Dodman, and reclaim her birthright. But though Ben and his sisters are the prophesied saviors of Eidolon, can they really defeat the Dodman and the various monsters he has gathered against them?

Eidolon 2 I read the first book in this series, The Secret Country, quite a few months ago, before this blog started, and though I enjoyed it enough while I was reading it, I found it mostly forgettable, and left it to gather dust on my bookshelf while I moved on to shinier things. When I saw the sequel in a bookstore, I figured I might as well pick it up, reread the first book, and do a double-barreled review.

And, well. They’re all right? Honestly, the adventures of Ben and, in The Shadow World, his older sister Eleanor, are pretty bland. Ben’s a fairly likeable but none-too-exciting Everykid. The villains are certainly threatening and dangerous, but never to the point of being scary for the reader, which is what makes a really excellent villain. Iggy is all right, as wisecracking cats go, but I’ve certainly read better (they’re rather a trope in fantasy, as I’m sure you know). The mythology of the series is nicely un-standard (mixing dinosaurs and other extinct animals with the more traditional fantasy creatures, for example), but not in any particularly striking way. They’re just…okay. I certainly wouldn’t advise anyone against reading these books, but I’m not sure I would recommend them either.

I was rather annoyed by the disparity between the treatment of Ben’s adventures and the treatment of Eleanor’s. Ben’s journey into Eidolon is shown as something necessary, noble, courageous, helpful, and heroic, while Eleanor’s is shown as something stupid, foolhardy, selfish, destructive, and attention-mongering. Ben goes into Eidolon to save his friends; Eleanor goes into Eidolon so that her friends will be forced to save her (not deliberately, but that’s how the narrative plays out). Why the difference?

In general, it seems like Johnson was doing her best to make Eleanor as unlikeable as possible. She’s constantly criticized by the text for her femininity, especially her fondness for makeup and platform shoes. However, the text a) fails to acknowledge that a teenage girl who doesn’t wear makeup and trendy footwear (not that platforms are the height of fashion these days, but whatever) may be treated rather harshly by her peer group for failing to fit in, and b) condemns Eleanor for her embracing of the trappings of femininity, which are only negative because they are feminine. There’s nothing wrong with wearing too much makeup, except that it’s a thing that teenage girls do, and so it must by its nature be bad.

This is rendered even more infuriating by the fact that each of the siblings is meant to save Eidolon via a prophesied task or skill, and Eleanor is “One with beauty’s spell to tame” (while Ben “bravely” brings “flame” and Alice has “the power to Name,” much more active and powerful traits). So Eleanor’s strength is entirely based on her beauty, but her preoccupation with her appearance, her only merit, is a bad thing. That seems rather ridiculously unfair.

Eleanor also seems to be developing a romance with a centaur, which is a little troubling for me. He’s got horse parts, okay? Ben’s budding romance with a selkie is also troubling, less because she’s a different species, as she can shapeshift into a girl (although an extremely seal-like one), and more because Ben is eleven. I’m hoping that the third book will resolve that as more of a first crush thing than anything else, because otherwise it would be extremely inappropriate, but nothing can really fix the weirdness of Eleanor and her horsey lover.

Aside from these complaints, the books were, as I said, decent. Not great, not terrible, just standard fantasy fare. I’ll most likely be finishing up the trilogy when the third book comes out, so The Eidolon Chronicles get three cupcakes.

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    One Response to “The Eidolon Chronicles (The Secret Country and The Shadow World)”

    1. Hannah says:

      I sorta like this book. I remmember I had some problems with it but it’s been a while since i’ve read it so I can’t really say what I didn’t like. So I can’t bable on and on. Lucky you!=) But from what you said about it I don’t think I’m going to read the second book

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