Book Review: Talon by Julie Kagawa

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Title: Talon
Author: Julie Kagawa
Pub Date: 25th January 2015
Publisher: MIRA Ink
Obtained: Review Copy
Rating: 3.5/4*

‘There are a dozen soldiers hiding in that maze All hunting you. All looking to kill you.’
To the outside world Ember Hill is an ordinary girl, but Ember has a deadly secret. A dragon hiding in human form, she is destined to fight the shadowy Order of St.George, a powerful society of dragonslayers. St. George soldier Garret is determined to kill Ember and her kind. Until her bravery makes him question all he’s been taught about dragons. 

Now a war is coming and Garret and Ember must choose their sides – fight to save their bond or fulfil their fate and destroy one another.

Talon is unlike any other dragon book I’ve read. In Kagawa’s world, dragons are able to take on human forms, and are trained to assimilate into human society in order to protect their species. We meet Ember and her twin brother Dante, both of whom are soon to complete their training from Talon – the dragon establishment – and the final stage of this is to mix with humans and not raise suspicion. This story is told in multi-narrative – we hear Ember’s first person point of view. a rogue dragon called Riley’s point of view as well as from the perspective of a human dragonslayer, Garret.

Ember was a brilliant character – funny, adorable and with that extra bit of sass, I couldn’t help but root for her in this novel. Character wise, I feel that Kagawa has written another solid character, one that I can relate to (minus the being a dragon part…) and one that I feel really jumps off the page. The other characters in this book were brilliant also – Riley was one of my favourites and of course, so was Garret!

Talon‘s pacing was also one of the highlights. I flew through this book! Bearing in mind that there are more than 400 pages in this book, I felt that it was the perfect length, and the story progressed to an exciting and engrossing conclusion.

Now, I feel that I can’t properly review this book without mentioning Julie Kagawa’s unusual take on dragons. I’ve read books before, namely Seraphina by Rachel Hartman, where dragons have the ability to change into human forms. However, these books have always been traditionally fantasy in genre; meaning, they have a historical fantasy setting, in an alternate world/time period. In Talon, Kagawa surprised me completely – by setting this in modern day America, in a beach front town called Crescent Beach. I feel like this was a huge risk – and it paid off as a whole.

Talon was a thrill ride from start to finish. With the alternate point of views, from Ember, the dragon, to Garret, the soldier of St George, an elite group of dragon slayers, a reader’s sympathies were pulled in many different directions – but one theme remained the same throughout: the discovery that Talon was in fact not what it appeared to be. Talon was an extremely interesting facet to the story. Ember and her twin, Dante, were trained by Talon individually during their time at Crescent Beach and Ember starts to suspect that Dante is being taught something quite different than what she is. I may be mistaken, I don’t think we ever discovered what was happening during Dante’s training sessions, which adds to the mystery further. And with that Epilogue, the next book (called Rogue, out April this year!) is sure to delve deeper into Dante and the deceit of Talon.

And what is a YA Fantasy novel without a romantic refrain? The love story between Garret and Ember was AH-MAZING. I was completely rooting for them the whole time. My one complaint with these two was that their love story was predictable – though I enjoyed every moment reading about it!

There is a sort-of love triangle in Talon – between Ember, Riley and Garret – and this was one of my main (minor) reservations with this book. I loved Garret. I loved Riley. And importantly, I loved Ember – but I hated that throughout the book, she seemed to like one of the love interests immensely and then as soon as she was with the other, seemed to forget about the other. The ending did settle my annoyance, only slightly, but I still dread to think about what lengths the love triangle will go to in the sequel.

One of the biggest problems I had with this book, despite loving the plot so much and the characters, was with the dragon concept. I think what puzzled and confused me, and prevented me from giving this book five stars, was Ember’s point of view. Ember was our main dragon protagonist. She was a dragon – but her voice sounded too human. It wasn’t until she shifts into her true self that I realised how much her narrative voice did not suit what she actually was. The message, of course, is that dragons are no different from the humans – or the St George dragon slayers – in the book. However, I felt that perhaps her point of view should have sounded focused on the less human side of her. This really held me back from enjoying the dragon moments of the story, when Ember shifted into her true self. It was perhaps a bit too out of my comfort zone, and I felt that I couldn’t delve into Ember’s head space and immerse myself in the story in this way.

Aside from that, Julie Kagawa has done an incredible job – not that I expected any different! She really does know how to construct characters and settings, and I could read her books all day.

3.5-4 stars for this exciting fantasy read. Looking forward to Rogue, the sequel!

*Thanks to MIRA Ink for providing me with this copy to review!

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Book Review: Ignite Me by Tahereh Mafi

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Just how beautiful is this cover?!

Ignite Me (Shatter Me #3) by Tahereh Mafi
Published February 4th 2014
HarperCollins
5/5 STARS

*REVIEW MAY CONTAIN SPOILERS – READ AT YOUR OWN RISK!*

Juliette now knows she may be the only one who can stop the Reestablishment. But to take them down, she’ll need the help of the one person she never thought she could trust: Warner. And as they work together, Juliette will discover that everything she thought she knew – about Warner, her abilities, and even Adam – was wrong.

Well. Tahereh Mafi, you’ve done it again. Am I really surprised that I’m so blown away? Not at all. It was immediately after reading Shatter Me, the first book in the series, that I felt that familiar feeling – a certain rush that you get when you know that you’re falling in love with a book series. After reading Unravel Me, the sequel, it had become obvious that this beautiful series had a top place in my favourites. I posted a rather gushing review of Unravel Me on my YouTube channel; so many exciting and incredible things happened in that book that, honestly, I was terrified to begin reading the third and final book, Ignite Me.

When a book series comes to an end, it can either go two ways – either the author will deliver an ending so brilliant, unique or satisfying that you can’t help but feel a happy, yet bittersweet, resolution, or it can go the other way. Though I’ve only experienced it a couple of times (the Delirium series springs freshly to mind!), an author can deliver an ending so brutal or so anti-climactic that the love you once held for the series begins to fade. This was my main concern for Ignite Me, and I’m so thankful to say that my concerns were squashed by Mafi’s brilliant craftsmanship.

The story begins straight after the shocking events in Unravel Me. Juliette has been shot, Warner saves her and Juliette wakes to find herself in Warner’s room, back at the base of the Reestablishment. The action really does begin from the first page; not even a chapter has gone by when we learn, in a truly shocking revelation from Warner, that Omega Point has been destroyed and everyone is thought to be dead. Now, thinking back, this was a very clever trick that Tahereh Mafi plays; she destroys all hope from the offset, breaking Juliette (and us readers!) down before building the blocks back up again. The rebellion may have lost the battle – but the war is still ongoing.

What we get from this is brilliant, excellently crafted character development. Juliette – who in the past two books had been a weak, scared, insecure and passive character – transforms completely. This, out of any other part of Ignite Me, was the main pleasure to read, for me. Watching Juliette become this fearless, ass-kicking heroine was by far the greatest part of this entire series.

Juliette means business in this book, and what is great is that her journey from vulnerability to capability mirrors the downfall of the Reestablishment. The moment that Juliette – single-handedly – shoots Anderson and announces herself leader is the moment where Juliette completes her transformation.

I loved Juliette in this book, which is surprising considering how she was one of the only things I didn’t like about Unravel Me! However, the highlight of this book series, for me, is Warner. Aaron Warner, you beautiful, annoyingly fictional character. Mafi manages to turn this screwed-up, flawed semi-psychopath into one of my favourite book characters. Warner is opened up in Ignite Me – with Juliette, he transforms also, helping her with every step in order to bring down his father. We learn the despairingly sad truth about his mother and we see Warner finally learn that Adam and James are his brothers. His dedication and love for Juliette is honestly a joy to read; I love their relationship! His love for Juliette is transformative and so is her love for him – they strengthen each other, bringing about their true selves. I’ll stop crying over these two now, they’ve already turned me into an emotional wreck.

On to the other characters, mainly Adam and Kenji. Adam went pretty crazy in this book and didn’t really have a role at all. I do feel bad for readers who loved Adam and Juliette together, as Mafi makes it 100% clear that he is not what Juliette wants at all. However, thinking back, beyond the break up with Juliette and the subsequent outbursts that he had during the book, Adam pretty much retreated into the background – he is not one of the central figures determined to bring down the Reestablishment. As a Warner fan, I didn’t complain whilst reading, but now I realise that this was maybe a flaw; Adam was such an important and central character in the previous two books that it was surprising that he had no position in this book at all. Kenji, as always, was a true highlight for me. As Juliette’s best friend, he made me smile ridiculous amounts and I’m honestly SO PLEASED that he didn’t die – that was a close one, though, Tahereh Mafi!

Now, it only feels right to talk about the ending – the part I was most dreading. I was however, shocked – it was honestly too good to be true. It was a happy ending. Yes – I know, a completely happy ending in a YA dystopian? But, it was! Anderson’s death, we can assume, ends the horrific repression of the Reestablishment and – again, we assume – Juliette’s ascension into leadership will slowly repair the damaged world around them. However, though my poor attached heart was relieved that no one died – at all – and that Warner and Juliette were together, changing society for the better, I was slightly disappointed. The ending was extremely brief – the entire book concluded in about fifty pages. I had a moment towards the end when I panicked as I realised that this book was barely concluding itself despite having so little pages left. I would have honestly appreciated an Epilogue, something that would have maybe jumped forward in time to fill us in on what happens after Anderson’s death. I realise that the government and broken society was not the focus of the series at all, which is perhaps why Mafi decided not to focus on it. It was, in fact, Juliette’s journey that was the main focus of the story, and in those terms, the story ended beautifully.

I loved this book – as you can probably tell. My Warner/Juliette loving heart was extremely happy; this was truly a brilliant conclusion to one of my favourite series. Thank you, Tahereh Mafi, for your brilliant words and for bringing this excellent story to life.