“Fantasy literature: you are charged with being a guilty pleasure, with pandering to nerds, fantasists and bores, with the notable exception of Lord of the Rings. How do you plead?”
“Not guilty, and the only witness we need is Julie Kagawa, her new novel ‘Talon’ in particular.”
Let’s get the nerdy, stereotypical parts out of the way: there are dragons in this thing. There’s evil to fight: namely the Order of St. George that wants to make them all extinct. Premise: done and done. That’s where the typical fantasy stuff ends, and the real cleverness of the novel begins to make itself apparent.
For starters, Kagawa speaks the language of the everyman: no ‘thees’ and ‘thous’ and verbose language that alienate you from the text. Instead you get colloquialisms, profanities, mentions of modern technology, and the like. In short, real talk. She’s not the witchy mystic preaching doomsday upon anyone who doesn’t listen to or understand her tirade. She’s more like that friend you have that you know can make even the most boring story seem like an epic event.
Secondly, she draws you into her world, not with the fantasy trope of complicated names and ornate, intensely structured descriptions, but through her character’s dialogue. It emerges that Ember, the dragon-cum-human protagonist, is not just a construct from Kagawa’s mind; she is a character from Kagawa’s exquisitely expressed imagination. From the way Ember’s speech reveals a reserved, but firmly determined demeanor, to her childlike musings about romance, it is evident that the reader can get heavily involved with her. In fact, she evokes the nerdy English student stereotype of taking a fictional character too seriously, to the point of falling in love, much like her character does, rather awkwardly, but endearingly. It appears that Kagawa does this on purpose: she’s that smart of a writer.
Now if feel you need something a little more technical to sell this book to you, how about the dreamy descriptions of things like oceans and the sky, juxtaposed with more mundane fare such as gas stations and house couches, and artfully so? Kagawa is a genius at making you feel swept away in the fantasy world she’s created and disenfranchised with the normal one you already inhabit.
There’s always a downside to the best work though, and for Talon it’s this: it doesn’t have much that endears it to the ‘intellectual high crowd’. It’s a very emotional rollercoaster of a journey, so if you don’t like your inner child being taken for a ride such as this, you should probably look elsewhere, while the rest of us enjoy it for what it is. It has to be said: the premise of a dragon trying to blend in with humans, and ending up falling in love with one? It’s not exactly Game of Thrones. But that’s the point: she’s not George RR Martin giving you a display of the atrocities that humans are capable of committing. She’s Julie Kagawa, showing you the depth and the significance of the viscera. She’s saying that emotion is just as important as action, and she showcases this well by placing the danger of not trying to be spotted by the Order alongside the day-to-day struggle of living in a human body. She does a fantastic job of reminding you of what it is to be human, with all your complex emotions and your even more complex methods of expressing them.
So to conclude, fantasy literature: pandering? Not guilty, not to a soul, not when it’s this universally enjoyable.
Boring? Not guilty, just not guilty at all.
A guilty pleasure? Guilty for the ‘pleasure’ part, not-a-chance-in-hell for the ‘guilty’ part. At least not the way Kagawa does it. There’s neither guilt nor contest, so hats off to you, Julie. I speak for myself and for anyone who’ll do themselves a favour by picking up your work when I say this: we look forward to next installement(s) of the Talon saga, if they’re even half as good as this one.