Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

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Content/Trigger Warnings: Stealing, violence/fighting, death, grief, gambling, anxiety/panic attacks.

I ended up re-reading this with Melanie and Amy for the May pick for the Dragons and Tea Book Club! This was such a wonderful time and such a great experience, to see so many readers come together to share their thoughts on this book!

The Dates & Breakdown:
May 13th – Chapters 1 – 7
May 14th – Chapters 8 – 14
May 15th – Chapters 15 – 22
May 16th – Chapters 23 – 28
May 17th – Chapters 29 – End

“I’d never flown before, and here I was preparing to journey to the stars. What other choice did I have?”

On a dusty, backwater planet called Jinju, thirteen year old fox spirit Min has been dreaming a life in the stars. That dream soon becomes a reality when one day a stranger shows up at her home looking for her older brother Jun. Soon, Min is discovering unkonown family members, avoiding tigers, fighting along side space pirates, impersonating a ghost, and all the while enjoying the adventure of a lifetime! With challenges around every turn, Min feels torn in every possible way. Add an ancient Dragon Pearl into the mix and you got yourself an adventure that deserves to be told. Embark on an intense space adventure with Min and she searches for her missing brother and the lost Dragon Pearl!

Dragon Pearl is filled with magic, a Thousand Dangerous Worlds, dragons, tigers, ghosts and goblins (OH MY!) And of course the fox spirits, but mostly everyone believes they’re non-existent. With a bad reputation of being unreliable tricksters, no one wants them around. Our main character, Min and her family have been suppressing their fox spirit and their abilities (like charm and shape-shifting). Filled with mystery, action, and world building, it’s hard not to get sucked into this space opera.

Creature Factions:
🌻 Dragons – Enormous, uses weather magic, can terraform planets
🌻 Goblins – Ability of invisibility, mostly secret agents, can also summon food with their wands
🌻 Ghosts – Spirits that have unfinished business, most likely haunting someone/something
🌻 Tigers – Large in size, strong, fierce, feared by everyone
🌻 Shamans – Healers, help ghosts crossover
🌻 Humans – Like you and me
🌻 Fox Spirits – Bad reputation, considered myths, extinct, Min and her family

“The lasting prejudice against us annoyed me. Other supernaturals, like dragons and goblins and shamans, could wield their magic openly, and were praised for it.”

Other Factions:
🌻 Dragon Council – Galactic government
🌻 Space Forces – Military, Min’s brother is a part of them
🌻 Mercenaries & Pirates – Factions of all kinds trying to survive by whatever means

Okay, this book had so many wonderful and perfect aspects! First, our main character has a great character development that I wish we got to see a little more in middle grade books. Min is thirteen years old and already laced with lots of responsibility at home. Once she embarks on the journey to track down Jun (her missing brother), she has to make choices and do things she never anticipated doing. The way she goes from being so unsure about things to near the end knowing what she wants and how she’s going to do it was just so impressive. And while this might be frowned upon, I loved the fact that Min was learning and using weapons was also included in this book. While I do frown upon violence with weapons, I loved that the whole “just because you know how to use a weapon doesn’t mean you have to use it” method was put in there. Not to mention the strength of the sibling bond between Min and Jun was incredible. Family is absolutely everything in this book! As someone who has four siblings and is very close to one of them, this was absolutely precious. I couldn’t get over that sibling bond and love. Also, fox spirits can choose their own gender. The author adding this little fact in just made my heart swell with happiness.

Once we get to the part of Min “joining” the Space Forces, there’s so much detail and different things happening. She also meets two insanely fun characters. We’re introduced to Sujin, a goblin, who has a clear obsession of shrimp crackers and it’s absolutely precious! Then we get introduced to Haneul who has been referred to as smelling of the sea. Both of these characters are each unique and both have amazing talents. Both have amazing character developments with a lot of twists and turns that I didn’t see coming! And one of the best elements in this whole section that I wish we got to see more of was Min entering the Engineer’s Trance. This trance happens when an engineer ends up synchronizing their gi with the ship’s where it ends up becoming part of the engineer’s own body. I wish we got more sections like this because I found this so fascinating and I just wanted more!

Other little bits I appreciated were mostly from the end of the book, like the very much Star Wars and Mulan vibes given, the way the mythology is woven throughout this book, the Dragon Pearl having response characteristics (making it seem alive and aware, and not making inanimate), the ghosts sharing their history/story about what happened to them, the planet being made new again, and a few other little bits that I don’t want to spoil for you!

Side note: There’s a moment in this book where the investigator of the Thousand Worlds, Securit Officer Seok, comes back into the picture and this moment about blew my mind. He’s taking Min home and the whole scene feels very Lilo & Stitch, Cobra Bubbles vibes! It’s perfection and I get the biggest smile every time I think of that part!

“Then the pearl hummed as if in approval, its iridescent surface glowing so brightly I was dazzled. Its colors swirled in a maelstrom of glittering blues, greens, and grays lit by starry gleams of silver. I stared at it, enthralled by its beauty.”

For the most part I enjoyed this book. There were only three issues that made it a bit challenging. For starters, the book starts off really slow. Some readers got into this book really quickly, but I’m not usually a big sci-fi reader so this book ended up taking me a little bit to get into. My other struggle was also one of the most detailed sections of the book and that was the Space Forces bit. A lot was happening within this whole section and at times it felt like things weren’t escalating or the section would feel like the details were weighing the multiple chapters down. Lastly, I really didn’t like how obvious the author made the villain. There were specific details that were stated in the book that implied there might have general concern or wanting to protect Cadet Jun, but the outcomes were so different. I loved the twists, but I wasn’t a fan of the obvious villain for this book. It became so predictable once it was made obvious of who the “bad guy” was and it fell a little flat.

Overall, I really liked this book. I was always wondering what was going to happen next and what Min was going to get up to. This is probably the first sci-fi book I read that delivered mystery with a playful side and I could definitely see this book being turned into the series (really hoping for a series!). Even the way this book ended was so beautifully done and there were even parts where I got emotional. Whether you’re a sci-fi reader or not, a middle-grade reader or not, this book is definitely for anyone and everyone. I had such a fun time reading it and once I got sucked in, it was hard for me to physically put it down. I recommend this book for anyone who’s interested in mythology and most definitely sci-fi. Plus, it’s just a really fun read and even better when you read it with friends!


5 thoughts on “Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

  1. I love the way you broke down the factions and LOVE that you mentioned the Lilo and Stitch scene! I was getting those same vibes! LOVE your review!!!


    1. Awe thank you so much lovely! I definitely wanted to mention them because it’ll allow readers to feel a little more drawn to the book as well as feeling a bit connected to it. Plus, the nostalgia is always nice! As for the factions, I wanted to make sure readers had a clearer understanding of the various factions especially since it kind of gets muddle in everything happening with the book.


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