Series Title: Talon
Author: Julie Kagawa
Date Added: May 24, 2016
Date Started: June 10, 2017
Date Finished: July 1, 2017
Reading Duration: 21 days
Genre: Fantasy, Paranormal Romance, Young Adult (YA)
Long ago, dragons were hunted to near extinction by the Order of St. George, a legendary society of dragon slayers. Hiding in human form and growing their numbers in secret, the dragons of Talon have become strong and cunning, and they’re positioned to take over the world with humans none the wiser.
Ember and Dante Hill are the only sister and brother known to dragonkind. Trained to infiltrate society, Ember wants to live the teen experience and enjoy a summer of freedom before taking her destined place in Talon. But destiny is a matter of perspective, and a rogue dragon will soon challenge everything Ember has been taught. As Ember struggles to accept her future, she and her brother are hunted by the Order of St. George.
Soldier Garret Xavier Sebastian has a mission to seek and destroy all dragons, and Talon’s newest recruits in particular. But he cannot kill unless he is certain he has found his prey: and nothing is certain about Ember Hill. Faced with Ember’s bravery, confidence and all-too-human desires, Garret begins to question everything that the Order has ingrained in him: and what he might be willing to give up to find the truth about dragons.
The core of Talon lies in two disparate institutions: the titular one and the Order of St. George. Despite each’s animosity towards the other (or more likely, because of it), both Talon, the organization for dragons, and the one for their hunters deal in indoctrination, intimidation, lies, and half-truths.
With the threat of St. George constantly on their tails, dragons have had to find more covert ways to survive. They hide in human form and teach their hatchlings not only how to assimilate, but also prepare and train them in ways best suited for Talon and all of dragonkind. Unfortunately, the hatchlings have no say whatsoever in what their occupation might be. They have no say in their life at all and are granted just one summer, where they test their assimilation skills, to live the semblance of a teenage normalcy.
This is the world twins Ember and Dante Hill are born into. Ember is clearly the more “fiery” of the two, and it was pretty obvious she’d be the one to flaunt and eventually break the rules. Her brother Dante has a cooler and more collected nature, which both Talon and the guardians the institution assigns to them hope will temper Ember’s flame.
Twin dragons are an unheard of anomaly, which serves well to hide their true nature from Crescent Beach’s human inhabitants and the Order of St. George. Guardians are humans in the employ of Talon, entrusted with their secrets, but the guardians are not only responsible for looking after the young dragons, they also report to Talon on their progress.
Unfortunately (for the dragons) St. George’s Order has evolved along with them, changing from armored knights with swords to specially trained soldiers with a much more impressive arsenal. Their only purpose is to seek out and slaughter their enemies, and they are well aware of “sleepers,” dragon hatchlings strategically placed in human territories in order to acclimate them to their way of life aka Ember and Dante’s current situation. For this reason Garrett and Tristan are also sent to Crescent Beach in order to sniff out the sleeper and eliminate it.
The chapters alternate between Ember and Garrett with a few from a dragon named Riley cycled in later on. They’re written in the first person, but since the switch is dictated by chapter, head jumping isn’t really a problem. Garrett’s introduction was frankly annoying, and I’m wondering if the author did that purposely to throw sympathy towards the dragon kids, since she presented Ember and Dante’s “case” first before showing the young soldier and his unit taking down a full grown adult. It’s immediately clear the Order uses propaganda and half-truths about their lifelong enemy to keep the troops loyal (e.g. dragons are unfeeling monsters that are trying to take over humanity), which is exacerbated in Garrett since his entire family was killed by them leaving him only with St. George. I still rolled my eyes so hard when he was described as the “perfect soldier.”
Since he and Tristan are the youngest in the unit (around 17 or 18), they’re assigned the special mission to find and take down the Crescent Beach sleeper. It doesn’t take long for Garrett and Ember to meet, and there’s instant attraction between the two of them, which for Ember is strange since humans usually hold no interest for her, but it’s possible that Garrett’s aloof, detached nature is a draw, because that’s how dragons are supposed to act. Ironically, she’s much more boisterous, and it doesn’t take her long to start chaffing at Talon’s bit.
Throwing rogue dragon Riley into the mix serves to confuse Ember even more (and of course adds the ubiquitous YA love triangle). There’s clearly something Talon is keeping from its hatchlings, but even seeing a rogue in their town in cause for concern. The organization is swift to hunt them down, and Ember’s by the books brother would immediately report such activity to their guardians. Of course because this is a YA, Riley serves as a second love interest for Ember, but I like the dilemma it causes. Should she go with her gut (and dragon) and pick Riley, or follow the heart she didn’t think she had and pursue Garrett?
An interesting thing about the “heart” is Talon tries to instill in its pupils that emotions such as love are human weaknesses. While dragons can feel a sense of devotion and loyalty, they really don’t love, and they certainly don’t fall in love with humans. Of course this is bullshit propaganda they use to indoctrinate the young ones, but if you repeat a lie long enough, eventually it becomes true insofar as enough people believe it. It’s not that dragons can’t love; it’s more that they’re told love is foolish and human, which means they close themselves off to it.
That’s how propaganda and indoctrination work, and Garrett was taught the same about dragons by the Order of St. George. They can only mimic human emotions; they don’t really experience them. This is of course a common tactic in war: othering your enemy. It’s why the White Walkers in Game of Thrones are called “the Others” in the book. It’s why “Cetra” from Final Fantasy VII is close to Latin word for “others” (cetera). If you see an opponent as similar to yourself, it’s much harder to kill them (or experiment on them in the case of the Cetra, though arguably the person doing so was a sociopath who had no qualms about experimenting on humans including his own son), but if you’re convinced that they’re not like you, it’s far easier to put a bullet in their brain. This troubling philosophy has been used throughout history. It’s why during the WWII caricatures were created of both the Germans and Japanese, because a caricature isn’t a person, and if you can believe that your enemy is that, it’s much easier to justify killing them.
This is the same reason stormtroopers have their faces covered. They all look alike and are nameless and faceless mooks. Neither the heroes in the narrative nor the audience experiencing it feel bad for the cannon fodder. Once you do, they can no longer be cannon fodder. This is exactly why not only does Finn take his helmet off at the beginning of The Force Awakens, but even before that, the smear of blood on it makes him stand out. The audience’s sympathies are immediately thrown his way once he distinguishes himself by not killing when he “should.” He’s then marked so we can tell the difference between him and the rest of the nameless, faceless soldiers, and finally when he rescues Poe, he literally names himself based on part of the only identification he had: a number.
Both Talon and St. George see each side as “other,” and it’s their children who pay for that. Neither Ember nor Garrett really know how to “human.” Ember because she’s been taught that humans are prey and dragons are predators, so any seemingly human emotion is something to be expunged, and Garrett because after his family was killed, St. George took him in and exacerbated the natural hatred that would grow from such a loss to mold him into someone who only wished to rid the world of that threat. But emotions aren’t solely for humans, and there’s been animosity on both sides.
Both teens them have an inner voice. Ember has her “dragon.” Garrett has his “soldier,” but they’re both just teenagers wishing to be normal. I was fortunate to be reading this at the same time as An Ember in the Ashes, so the similarities between the two were apparent. Garrett is a soldier like Elias, and both of them are beholden to some higher authority. Granted we start Ember with Elias wanting to get out, whereas Garrett initially is more than content with his place in the Order. They both fall for girls not only outside of their organization, but completely anathema to it and are forced to choose where their loyalties will lie or fall. Both matters of heart and morality depend on only one choice (though arguably this is a common theme in fiction).
I don’t blame any dragon for going rogue. Once it’s discovered not only what Talon does to them but to any member who doesn’t live up to expectations, it’s surprising there aren’t more defectors out there. Ember’s naivete is to be understood though. The organization makes sure hatchlings only know what they want them to know. Dragons are supposed to serve however it sees fit, and I, personally, would not want my whole life planned out for me without my input and against my desires.
Obviously Ember and Garrett eventually find out the truth about each other. That’s not a spoiler; it’s pretty clear it has to happen (though I did guess how), and the end of this book is a whirlwind, roller coaster ride that I shotgunned through the Saturday morning I finished. The narrative is fast paced throughout, but it’s nearly impossible to but down once the end is nigh. I believe this really helps the story overall, since the teenagers act…well really teenagery in the beginning, and Garrett’s first chapter comes off as utterly sanctimonious. Even though Ember’s “rebellious teen” is cliched, her character is a relief from both Talon’s and St. George’s stringent rules.
Adults pass their mores on to the next generation, and they also attempt to instill in them the fear of questioning. In an authoritarian society, which is what both Talon and St. George are, adherence to authority is absolutely necessary in order for that society to continue on as it is. They follow the rule of teaching children what to think instead of teaching them how to think. If you can indoctrinate them with your propaganda, they’ll do the same to the next generation and the next one into perpetuity. Until someone dares to break the cycle.
‘It all goes back and back,’ Tyrion thought, ‘to our mothers and fathers and theirs before them. We are puppets dancing on the strings of those who came before us, and one day our children will take up our strings and dance in our steads.
-George R R Martin “A Storm of Swords”
Garrett’s been in St. George his entire life after his family was killed by their sworn enemy. He was completely indoctrinated into their belief system until he met Ember and realized it was all rubbish. Even before he knew she was the dragon sleeper, the thought that she could be didn’t mesh with what he’d been taught about them, and what Garrett was taught is exactly how Ember is expected to act. She’s not supposed to have human emotions. She’s not supposed to legitimately make friends with humans, and she sure as hell isn’t supposed to fall in love with one. Talon teaches them that humans do nothing but destroy everything and are a cancer on the world. I can’t deny the truth in that, but the elitism deriding “mere mortals” is really just what some humans use to treat other humans poorly. If you don’t believe someone has the same feelings/emotions you do and/or if you think your emotional status is on a higher level, you’re not going to consider their viewpoint at all (which is what I was elaborating on above).
For Ember, getting closer to Garrett and just being friends with other teenagers teaches her that this just isn’t true. While her brother has no issues “making friends,” he does so like a dragon: with only the veneer of emotional attachment. He also won’t question Talon or their motives, using the all too familiar “appeal to authority” fallacy. If Talon says it, it must be to keep them safe, and when Ember confides in him her findings, he falls back on cognitive dissonance in his denial, which puts a great deal of strain on a relationship that was hitherto skin tight..
I was a bit sad to see so many low ratings and disparaging reviews. It seems like most readers were expecting Daenerys’s dragons
and not more sentient ones that can shift into human. While certainly possessing a bestial nature of sorts (especially when she gets angry), Ember still has a rational mind and is no more a mindless maniac than any other character with an animal form. It’s an odd expectation given that these dragons are taught to assimilate in order to survive (a concept I could say a lot about) and (according to the Order of St. George) eventually take over the world.
While Talon didn’t do anything particularly new in the genre of YA (at least in terms of love triangles and teenage angst), the shapeshifting/weredragon angle was something I haven’t see before (and I’ve read quite a few books on all types of shapeshifters including ones that turn into leopards and swans). Additionally, the book’s lesson on why authority should be questioned is necessary especially in these turbulent times. Not doing so is detrimental, dangerous, and a far greater plague than dragons could ever unleash upon humanity.