Wednesday, May 18, 2016

Soldier (Talon Saga #3) by Julie Kagawa

Ember is recovering from the horrors she’s had to partake in in a very short period of time – but she has little time to recover or get her bearing. Riley has a new mission, a traitor in his ranks and a possible lead where female dragons are tortured and enslaved to produce young: he cannot let tjhis lead go.

At the same time Garrett uncovers a plot within the Order of St John which similarly demands their urgent attention – and for Garret to rejoin the team.

I mentioned this in my review of the previous book in this series but I really need to reiterate it now because it’s so sad to me – this book series does an incredible job of taking a really interesting, potentially fascinating concept and making it Utterly Bland Paint-by-the-numbers-Paranormal-YA.

It’s frustrating. There’s so much here that could be interesting and different and generally unique and it’s all ignored in favour of telling a story that is so utterly generic and forgettable that it’s genuinely hard to write a review afterwards.

Take the supernatural – we have dragons here. Actual dragons. Not weredragons or vampires or witches or some other magically-enhanced human. No, this is a completely alien species. Think of how we could explore how their minds work, think of the conflict this would cause over them interacting with humans. Think of how their culture would be so vastly different, how completely alien everything about them would be. But I get no sense of Ember and Riley being anything but human. Or even Ember’s brother Dante still working with Talon. Or even the guys he’s working with. No dragon in this series has shown themselves to have anything but a human mind set. Which is especially frustrating because part of the attempted conflict of this book is Ember and Riley wondering about whether or not they are becoming too human or not human enough: but they’re not inhuman! We also continue to have the weird “my dragon thinks/does/act” statements which makes no real sense. Again, it’s like someone copying a generic “wereanimal” storyline and not trying to actually adapt it to the original world building of this world.

This is especially frustrating with the romance. I mean, how would a romance even happen when the love interest is a huge lizard? “Let us press our squishy mouth parts together, small warm blooded hairy monkey creature.” Why does Ember even look at Garrett or Riley in human disguise and think of them in a sexual way? I’m not saying don’t have this romance – I’m saying develop this. Work with them AS alien beings finding love rather than just ignoring it and pulling out a storyline that could easily sit in any werewolf book out there.

Another frustration is Talon. I mean, the Order of St George is a generic hunter organisation, fine, whatever – and the corruption storyline is actually somewhat interesting. But Talon? Talon is a world-wide organisation of dragons after power and control hunting down the naughty evil rebels and any outsiders. Fine – but the reason why Talon was created was, we were told, because dragons were literally facing extinction. They had to come together, as a unified force, to protect themselves from St. George’s genocidal campaign. Even now, part of Dante‘s spooky mission for Talon which is getting him all conflicted is out of need for soldiers to fight.

But while we have an excellent job of really making it clear that the Talon is well and truly evil, that’s beyond doubt. We can see they’re definitely evil and corrupt and pretty soulless and the enemy they all need to take down. But there’s no real analysis of what it means if Talon is removed. There’s no consideration of how the dragons will survive is Talon is gone. There’s no debate over whether Talon is necessary for the continued survival of dragon kind, whether without Talon they will be devastated by St. George or any other analysis of what Talon is for or what it does. And this should be discussed. This could add so much nuance, should ask so many questions about what the dragons would do without Talon

In fact, look at that – a generation, maybe several generations, of dragons have grown up knowing Talon and only Talon. We even have suggestions that Talon has erased entire concepts from draconic culture in order to make everyone better Talon agents – there are implications to damaging this organisation which is quite literally the only culture most of these dragons have. These are debates, complexities, problems which are just ignored.

Gah, you could replace “dragon” with “weremole” and not appreciably change the story. You could transport these characters into any pretty generic YA and not change the story. The story itself is just so lacking in anything distinctive – the big evil organisation is doing big evil things while the protagonists focus on their love triangle: anything more interesting or potentially useful (like the draconic fight against extinction or the Eastern Dragons) are just side notes that don’t add enough to the story to change the basic generic set up.

I’m just frustrated that all this potential to be something different just doesn’t seem to be explored at all.

We have the introduction of the Eastern Dragons which could definitely be interesting, add new concepts of dragonhood and explore draconic culture. It also adds so much needed racial and gender diversity to this all white and heavily-skewed male series (there continue to be no LGBTQ characters). Except she appears, declares Talon evil, apparent lives in a Temple with lots of monks being vaguely spiritual in some way, Ooooooommmmm… and that’s about it. Any more detail or involvement or… nope? Ooookay then. This ill-defined monk-connection apparently gives her useful people in the west as well…?