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Literature / Dragon Pearl

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Dragon Pearl is a book by author Yoon Ha Lee published under the Rick Riordan Presents label; it's similar to Riordan's books, but IN SPACE! and with Korean Mythology.

Thirteen-year-old Min is a gumiho, a fox spirit, who lives on the planet of Jinju with her mother and her many aunts. Jinju is imperfectly terraformed; it's capable of supporting life to some extent, but the air is unsafe to breathe and crops can't grow outside special environmental domes. Min is the second oldest of her generation. Her older brother Jun joined the Space Force, wanting to see the Thousand Worlds, and she wants to follow him when she's old enough. One day an investigator arrives - Jun has vanished. He's suspected of deserting to track down the legendary Dragon Pearl, which was meant to be used to fully terraform Jinju until it went missing. After a scuffle with the investigator, Min sets off on her own quest to find out what happened to her brother.

This book provides examples of:

  • Absent Aliens: All the intelligent beings are from Earth.
  • Anti-Hero: Min's way of getting out of trouble is to lie or trick her way out. Also overlaps with Guile Hero.
  • Asian Fox Spirit: Gumiho are shapeshifters who can use a magic called Charm to manipulate people, and they tend to stay in human form because other species find them untrustworthy. Most of them choose to be female.
  • Disappeared Dad: More specifically in Min's case, he's dead.
  • Eating the Enemy: Apparently tiger spirits used to do this to prisoners. Captain Hwan doesn't actually do such things, but Min pretends that he intends to while shapeshifted into him.
  • Fantasy Counterpart Culture: The Empire of the Thousand Worlds follows Korean Culture and Korean folklore, but also the Joseon Dynasty of the 14th-5th Century politically, a spatial and sci-fi version of the Korean Empire and the Joseon dynasty.
  • Forced Transformation: In revenge for getting them killed, the ghosts of Jun's team turn Captain Hwan into a normal tiger.
  • Four Is Death: Directly referenced several times - most notably the Fourth Colony, which is a ghost-ridden hellhole.
  • Gaia's Vengeance: The people of the Fourth Colony didn't sacrifice properly to keep the pox spirits away. They all died of the plague as a direct result of this.
  • Galactic Superpower: The Empire of the Thousand Worlds, a near galaxy-wide coalition of planets and star systems.
  • Ghostly Death Reveal: Min discovers that Jun has been dead for a while when she meets his ghost on the Fourth Colony.
  • Hostile Terraforming: Mentioned as something that could be done with the Dragon Pearl. Doesn't actually happen, but not for lack of effort on Hwan's part.
  • Jedi Mind Trick: Gumiho have a magic called Charm that makes it easier for them to influence and persuade people.
  • Little Bit Beastly: While the actual animal spirits look fully human, goblins (dokkaebi) have visible horns on their foreheads.
  • Magitek: Magical, mystical and mythological races and creatures coexist with common human beings, along with technological and high-tech elements, such as spaceships and computers.
  • Mythpunk: Korean Mythology coexists with futuristic and sci-fi technologies, such as spaceships and galactic empires.
  • Narrative Profanity Filter: Min notes that space-farers say a lot of words her mother wouldn't want to hear.
  • Only the Chosen May Wield: Only trained terraformers and shamans can use the Dragon Pearl. Min manages it despite not having the training, to lay the dead of the Fourth Colony to rest.
  • Our Wormholes Are Different: Called Gates. Spaceship goes in one end, spaceship comes out other end very far away. The amount of time it takes is variable but usually on the order of hours, and using the Gates requires a special sort of drive that has to recharge every few jumps.
  • Science Fantasy: Supernatural beings from Korean mythology co-exist with spaceships.
  • Shapeshifter Default Form: Gumiho have a baseline human form and a fox form. They can also shift into almost anything else they want, including inanimate objects, but a specific human and a fox are their true forms.
  • Space Navy: The Space Force doesn't quite have the name, but it's got everything else.
  • Space Sector: There's the Ghost Sector, home of the Fourth Colony.
  • Speculative Fiction LGBT: Being a middle-grade novel, Dragon Pearl has no romance of any gender combination, but there's multiple characters who prefer "they" pronouns (this appears to be a completely value-neutral choice in-universe) and Min mentions that gumiho can choose what sex their physical body has.
  • Unfinished Business: Why ghosts stick around. Mostly for revenge, but not always. Jang wants revenge on the mercenaries that killed him; the rest of Jun's landing party wants revenge on Captain Hwan; the ghosts of the Fourth Colony just want a decent burial.
  • Voluntary Shapeshifting: The particular gift of the gumiho, although we also see tiger-human and dragon-human shifters. All three also get magical abilities unrelated to the shapeshifting.
  • Weather Manipulation: One of the powers of dragon spirits. Young ones who haven't fully mastered this sometimes have their very own weather systems following them around; Haneul, a Space Force cadet, gets a literal Personal Raincloud at one point.
  • Weredragon: All the supernatural characters in spend most of their time in human form, including dragons. They can be identified by their snoring and oddly-coloured hair; Haenul, the most important dragon, has blue hair in her human form.