*NO CRITICAL SPOILERS*
Dragon Pearl is about a fantasy world taking place in space. And yes, I picked it up because it said, "Rick Riordan Presents" on the cover. In this world, humans coexist with "supernaturals" in space and the summary above pretty much gives the rest of the synopsis.
A critical review:
Kim Min is the protagonist of the book. As far as characters go, she's one of the most interesting in the whole book. The idea of a supernatural fox-pseudo human going to space to save her brother while is such an enticing premise that is fully realized in this book. She possesses many shades of grey that make the reader question her moral values and the decisions she makes, going so far as to have them decide whether she can even be considered a good character in the first place. She is determined, rebellious, and willing to do anything, even abuse her shapeshifting abilities to pose as another individual. She deceives her closest friends and infiltrates a private room to find information about where her brother (the main motive) has gone. The reader's choice to decide whether or not she can be forgiven gives the book a more immersive feel to it and makes her character more relatable.
The most interesting thing about her is her grey shades that leave the reader
One of the book's biggest strengths is its worldbuilding elements. The world itself is full of supernatural creatures and is so fully realized it feels almost real. Part of the reason for this is the fact that it's able to reflect real-world prejudices in a realistic manner that mirrors prejudices of our own. In this book, fox species are frowned upon as deceptive and cunning, and while it's a nice nod to Zootopia (ha), it manages to be different from that with its sci-fi theming and setting that takes place in the confines of a military-like spaceship. The Korean mythology that is implemented in this futuristic setting feels so incredibly creative and mind-blowing at times, as the parallels between the legends and the events of the book are so cleverly executed.
However, there are some serious criticisms that I feel should be addressed about this book. The book seems to drag on and on forever and is riddled with poor pacing. Lots of patience is needed to go through this book as the "high-octane thrills" that are promised on the cover only come occasionally. This is likely due to the setting, which is restricted within the spaceship.
Although Kim Min has lots of drive behind her, the rate at which the goals themselves are accomplished sometimes happens at a staggeringly slow pace. The characters spend lots of their time expressing their opinions on previous events in the book or spend a long time contemplating what to do. And when the destination is finally reached, it doesn't feel fulfilling. The brother Kim spends so many pages looking for is actually in the book for only twenty pages/ The first and last act of the book is where it truly manages to shine as that's where it feels most appropriately paced. Some side plots also unnecessarily intrude in the main story. Kim's two best friends, Haneul and Sujin, are not expanded to their full potential and while they start off strong, get less and less developed as the book drags on. The villain also feels one-dimensional at times, with the generic "I'll take over the world using this epic powerful item" trope. Even Jun, Kim's brother, struggles as a character with the same problems and lack of a proper arc. Jang, the ghost out for revenge, is the only other character that actually feels fleshed out enough.
Overall, this book is good. That much is true. It has a fully-realized world and protagonist that is hindered by poor pacing and side characters. But hey. That's just my opinion. If you're patient, go enough and read it. 3/5.