Five Reasons To Read: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee – A Fun and Delightful Korean-Inspired Space Opera/Fantasy

Text: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee. Image: A girl with black hair, wearing a spacesuit, holds a space helmet to her side. In the corner is a translucent and blue ghost of a fox.
Blurb:

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.

CW’s review:

Dragon Pearl is a delightful adventure story that follows Min, a young teen who lives in the poorer fringes of the galaxy and is a shape-shifting fox spirit. When she receives her word that her brother has been accused of desertion, she runs away from home and embarks on an epic adventure across the galaxy to find her brother and becomes entangled with a plot to find the mysterious and powerful Dragon Pearl. Along the way, she’ll meet space pirates, gamblers, ghosts, and maybe she’ll befriend a galactic soldier or two.

Why should you read this book? Well, today’s book review of Dragon Pearl is a little different to my usual book reviews. Instead a long review, I provide five awesome reasons why you should pick up this wonderful book!

1. The story is inspired by Korean mythology

What drew me into reading Dragon Pearl was that it is inspired by Korean folklore and mythology! True to its promise, Dragon Pearl is a brilliant mix of science-fiction, adventure, and fantasy with shape-shifting fox spirits, weather-changing dragon spirits, ghosts, dokkaebi, and tigers that take on human forms. Meeting the wide array of characters and their unique magic, as well as exploring the detailed and vibrant universe through Min’s eyes, was so much fun. Readers will love the science-fiction and futurism elements, and how it melds with fantasy.

2. A fun and eventful space adventure

The story of Dragon Pearl is simple, but what makes it such a great read is its exciting take on the simple adventure-story formula. Min, the protagonist of the story, has never ventured beyond her poor planet, so when she ventures into a bustling city, gets entangled in gamblers and pirates, and becomes a soldier of the Space Force, the reader will get to explore the vast world through Min’s eyes. Young readers will find Min’s journey empowering; although she is young, she uses her wits and determination to get through each challenge and tough situation thrown at her.

3. Led by an awesome protagonist

What made Dragon Pearl such a joy to read was that Min was such a great character, and readers will adore her just as much as I do. Min is young – she’s twelve or thirteen in the book – and I think Lee does an incredible job at portraying a believable and relatable character of her age. She despises chores (but does them anyway), is a little cheeky and wants to prove herself, can be a little reckless and makes mistakes, but she’s also a dreamer, a sister who loves and looks up to her big brother, and clever.

4. Positive sibling relationship & friendships

Core to the story, and Min’s mission, is her relationship with her big brother, Jun. If you’re looking for a story that portrays a great sibling relationship, Dragon Pearl is a solid choice. As an older sibling, I may not have related to Min’s role as the younger sibling, but it was really wholesome and lovely to see how Jun had such a big impact and influence on Min and her perspective and goals in her life. At its very heart, Dragon Pearl is about how far you’d go for the person you care about, and the results are, well – I didn’t see it coming but the ending was satisfying.

What I didn’t expect, and Min doesn’t quite expect this either, was that this story also explores friendship and trust. During her mission, Min grows a connection and bonds with several people along the way – eventually being able to call them friends. This raises the stakes and makes the story more interesting, because Min has to impersonate a soldier, unbeknownst to the soldier’s friends. I liked that Dragon Pearl also explores trust and betrayal, and the climax of the story is exciting.

5. Set in an queer and inclusive world

Not only is the worldbuilding wonderful with its science-fiction and fantasy elements, Dragon Pearl has some of the most effortless and casual queer representation I’ve read! The book casually refers to polyamorous families or gay parents and also prominently features a non-binary character that uses they/them pronouns. Moreover, people in the Space Forces (a galactic military) have their pronouns on their uniforms – making it a great example of how to gender identity is respectfully portrayed and treated in a story. The queer representation is organic and is normalised and humanised in the world in Dragon Pearl, and I appreciate that immensely.

MY CONCLUSION: RECOMMENDED

Goodreads | Book Depository | My short review on Goodreads


Is this book for you?

Premise in a sentence: A young fox-spirit goes on a mission to find her missing brother.

Perfect for: young kids and younger teens looking for an exciting space adventure; readers who enjoy science-fiction/fantasy; readers who love space operas.

Think twice if: readers who aren’t a fan of adventure stories; readers who want a cohesive and singular plot; readers who are expecting to ‘learn about Korean culture’ from this book.

Genre: middle-grade/young YA, science-fiction, fantasy, space opera

Trigger/content warning: death of loved one


Let’s discuss!

This is my first Rick Riordan Presents read and after reading Dragon Pearl, I’d definitely love to read more! I’m particularly interested to read Aru Shah and the End of Time, The Storm Runner, and Tristan Strong Punches a Hole in the Sky!

  • Have you read Dragon Pearl? If so, what did you think?
  • Do you have any recommendations of books written by Korean authors?
  • Have you read any of the other Rick Riordan Presents books? Which do you recommend?

12 thoughts on “Five Reasons To Read: Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee – A Fun and Delightful Korean-Inspired Space Opera/Fantasy

  1. The Storm Runner is amazing, I read through it in a day and immediately ordered Dragon Pearl. Aru Shah is a bit harder to get into and wasn’t really what I was expecting but a good story none the less.

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    • Ooh, thanks for the recommendation Leigh! I was halfway through Aru Shah (and found it hard to get into as well) but had to return it to the library before I could finish it. Gah. I should try and get it out again so I can finish it!

      Like

  2. i have honestly never heard of this book, but it looks amazing! definitely gave me some THE EPIC CRUSH OF GENIE LO vibes, i’ll look for it!!
    as always, amazing review! 💓

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  3. I agree with your review so much, CW!! This book was just such a fun and genuinely enjoyable book to read, and I absolutely loved Min. the sibling relationship really hit me — I love siblings in books so much and I SORELY wish there were more of them (especially in YA lmao)

    Liked by 1 person

    • Ooh! If anything, space is just the setting and there’s more of an emphasis on the journey and the adventure that Min, the MC, goes on. The mythology is interwoven into the story so well and I think you’ll really enjoy it!

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  4. pronouns in uniforms?? that is such an amazing concept ahhh I love it!! also, i’ve never read anything inspired by Korean mythology before, and Min sounds like a character who I’ll love a lot, especially as the youngest sibling. Great post, CW 😍😍

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Excellent review as per usual CW! I’ve had my eye on this one as I highly enjoy middle grade fantasy/science fiction.

    I’ve read Aru Shah and the End of Time and thought it was a delightful MG fantasy, and I’m looking forward to reading the next installment soon. Roshani Chokshi did a wonderful job writing a MG novel with a character that felt their age. It’s a big pet peeve of mine to read a MG novel where the 12-year-old acts like an 18-year-old. I also found the dialogue very clever and entertaining.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you so much Amanda!

      I think Dragon Pearl is such a good read, and even kinda straddles the blurry line between YA and MG. It doesn’t quite have the tone of MG, but maybe younger YA? Either way, it’s wonderful!

      Oof, I totally agree with your pet peeve. I actually was halfway reading Aru Shah before I had to return it to the library. Gah! I should definitely pick it up again!

      Like

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