TALON really surprised me. A few chapters in and I was unsure of the story, not completely convinced by the whole dragon in human form concept. But a few chapters later and something must have clicked. I was caught up in the story, invested in the characters' lives and issues, devouring each chapter, in anticipation of whatever dramatic thing would happen next. TALON turned out to be a slow builder that culminated in an action packed ending that was gripping and exciting.
Ember and Dante Hill are dragons. Two dragons who must assimilate into human society, infiltrate the human world as part of a dragon lead organisation, Talon. In their human forms, they only have the summer to prove their worth but Ember dreams of freedom and a summer of sea, sand and surfing. Garret is a soldier, a member of St. George, an ancient order which has one purpose - to hunt and kill dragons. Sent on a mission to infiltrate society and root out the "sleeper" dragon, Garrett slowly comes to learn that all he's been told about dragons may not be true. Ember also comes to realise that there's more to life than Talon and an encounter with a rogue dragon makes her question her beliefs. Ember and Garrett both harbour deadly secrets as they slowly get to know one another, sacrificing the very missions that they were sent to complete.
What I loved about this story was the heightened tension and suspense that permeated throughout. The story is full to the brim with secrets and lies, dangers and conspiracies. I loved the sense of mystery and the feeling of uncertainty that radiated through the pages; not knowing when the truth would finally spill over and create havoc. It's a real edge of your seat kind of book, a book that hooks you and takes you on a thrilling ride. I was on tender hooks throughout because as a reader I knew the truth about their identities and where their loyalties lay but obviously the characters had no idea themselves. This definitely upped the suspense and made for some rather ironic and amusing scenes (you know, you get Garrett talking about how monstrous the waves are when unbeknown to him he's sharing a board with a monster!). The story built in action towards the end and leaves the slow build up behind to unleash a fast paced and exciting narrative. It just rose and rose to this big dramatic climax, this crazy crescendo where the two opposing forces finally meet.
The two organisations added another layer of intrigue and mystery to the story. I thought the Order of St. George was such a clever idea, using the legend of St George (the patron saint of England) and the dragon as inspiration. The idea of a secret order hunting and slaying dragons through the ages just seemed so exciting and I loved the mix of legend and fiction. The dragon organisation, Talon seemed even more sinister and deadly with monstrous dragons believing themselves to be above human beings. The two organisations, pitted against one another makes for a deadly story and I'm intrigued to know how and when they come to blows again in the next book.
Something I really enjoyed was Kagawa's writing. It's so GOOD. Its beautifully written, flows easily from start to finish, full of suspense and tension. Her dialogue was realistic and the setting with its waves and sand was described vividly. Although perhaps with a more magical world and fantastical story her writing really could have been showcased in all its glory. I wanted detail, intricate, immersive and enchanting detail but I felt with a modern setting and a teenage angst story it just wasn't present.
Now, I liked the characters. I can't really say that I truly connected with them all but as the story progressed I became more and more invested in their stories. Our main protagonist, Ember (can I just say that I adore her name! It's so fitting!) is undoubtedly a bit frustrating and a little delusional. Delusional in the sense that she constantly ignores her instincts and gut feelings all for a bit of boy action. Seriously, she's a dragon. I'm sure her heightened senses would have worked out that something was amiss with this stranger (which he is!) who is trying very, very hard to get close to her. So yeah, she's not very convincing as an angry, fire breathing dragon. But as a human, she really shined. She definitely lives up to her fiery name; she's feisty, passionate and independent although a little hot headed at times. Her easygoing nature is infectious and it is hard to imagine that under all that pretty red hair is a hard scaled monster. She really comes across as your average teenager and it was easy to empathise with her (despite being a dragon!).
Garrett was also another infuriating character at times. He's supposedly a hard trained fighter, a dragon slayer, a fully fledged soldier of St. George with plenty of dragon blood on his hands. What we get isn't the stone-cold, ruthless monster killer that you expect. Nope, you get a shy and awkward young man who loses sight of his goal at the first glance of a pretty girl. I did enjoy how this relationship made him question his beliefs but it just seemed to happen too quick, too easy to be fully convincing. Just like Ember he has no real knowledge of what being a teenager actually is so it was fun seeing the two of them work it out together. Just like in the BLOOD OF EDEN series, Kagawa depicts this story of two individuals from completely different backgrounds, enemies to one another, one a dragon the other a dragon hunter who come together and put their differences aside because of their feelings. It's all a bit Romeo and Juliet-like in a way.
Now, lets discuss the love triangle. The bane of most YA fiction. Yes, it is undoubtedly a cliché, annoying and a little frustrating. In this instance though I thought it was well done. Some of you may disagree with me but I thought it reflected Ember's dual identity, her split personality; both dragon and human. In her human form she's attracted to Garrett with her getting butterflies in her belly at every look, every touch. Then you get her dragon side. She feels an instinctive pull towards Riley, a primal feeling deep within. She herself is split between her dragon side and growing humanity and also her feelings for Garrett and Riley. Who do I prefer personally? Hmm I'm partial to a bit of a bad boy myself so definitely Riley. He just oozes sex appeal, confidence and surprisingly, a caring personality. It's hard not to be attracted to him. I feel that Ember could have a deeper connection with him than Garrett. But I did feel for poor Garrett even though their relationship was built on a lie.
One thing. I desperately wanted more Dante. He was such an intriguing character and he sort of disappeared quarter of the way through despite supposedly being super close to Ember. Their close relationship seemed to just fizzle out which was disappointing but I am REALLY looking forward to how their relationship develops in the next book. It should make for some VERY interesting reading.
In my opinion dragons = magical fantastical setting. Where was the world-building? The fantasy setting? I know, I know this book was set in a contemporary setting but I wasn't fully convinced by it all. I couldn't really immerse myself in the world; it was just so normal, so everyday. We get these majestic creatures but then this world that really doesn't match up with them. Maybe it's just my inner fantasy lover lashing out at not having some spectacular and imaginative world to dive into. Although, I did like the setting itself with the sandy beach, wild foaming waves and laid back atmosphere. It was Embers' paradise for a time, a place of magic and freedom but sadly unattainable for such a creature.
Another thing that irked me a little was the slow pace at the beginning. It was too bogged down in teenage angst and romance with not enough focus on the story. It just seemed to drag in places and it wasn't until over half way through that it turned into this fast paced and exciting story. I LOVE Julie Kagawa's THE BLOOD OF EDEN series due to its fast paced, gritty narrative and TALON just seems to be rather tame compared to it. Hopefully in ROGUE (TALON #2) the story will concentrate more on the dragons, with more intrigue and action.
TALON is a promising new start to this dragon centred series. I wasn't blown away by it and it wasn't nearly as good as the BLOOD OF EDEN series which wowed me. It read more like a contemporary book and not fantasy at times and I was hungry for a rich, vivid and fantastical world. The romance overshadowed a large section of the story but the action packed and fast paced ending more than made up for the slow beginning. I loved the intensity of the narrative, the nail biting suspense and action. That ending has definitely made me interested in continuing on with the next book because I NEED to know what happens. How could it possibly end like that? It's not fair and I will dive right into ROGUE when I finally get my hands on it. If you love fantasy and expect a whirlwind adventure story then you may be a little disappointed with TALON but if you love intrigue and taking a chance on a new, fresh story then give this a go.