Soldier

Soldier

Please note that this review may contain spoilers for earlier instalments of this series. You can read my reviews of these novels [here] and [here].

Soldier was written by Julie Kagawa and first published in 2016. It is the third novel in The Talon Saga and follows Ember, Garret, Riley and Wes as they continue to battle against both Talon and St George. The story follows on directly from where Talon (2014) and Rogue (2015) left off and so you really need to read the books in order to fully appreciate them.

Following his split from Ember, Garret travels to London to pursue his suspicion that something is not right within the Order of St George. What he finds shocks him. The Patriarch – the highest ranked soldier of the Order – is taking orders directly from Talon. While the Patriarch justifies his treasonous behaviour, he does not realise that he is being played by the dragons. Talon are using him to target rogues and dissidents, making their organisation stronger than ever.

When Garret learns that St George have been directed towards Ember and Riley, he rushes back to America to help his friends escape a deadly trap. But doing so reawakens feelings that he would sooner put behind him. Try as he might to get over Ember, he still loves her dearly. Ember is also torn in half by her feelings. Although the dragon in her yearns for Riley, there is something about Garret that still confuses her deeply.

Unbeknownst to all of them, Talon is putting its master plan into action. Dante has been put in charge of managing the vessels – an army of dragon clones. The creatures have been bred to follow orders to the letter but possess no free will or empathy of them own. With their clone army and St George under their thumb, Talon is stronger than ever and will soon be able to take control of the world…

If you’ve read my earlier reviews, you’ll remember that my relationship with The Talon Saga has been somewhat bittersweet. While I’m not normally a fan of paranormal romance novels, there was something about Talon that really drew me in. Ember was a relatable protagonist and I was left wanting to know more about both the Order and Talon due to Kagawa’s original world building. Yet Rogue was not nearly as enjoyable. It failed to build upon the foundations that Talon had laid and really just felt like filler on the whole.

I’ll start by saying now that Soldier was an improvement. I still have my reservations (more on that shortly) but I did feel that the plot is finally starting to move once again. In Soldier, we finally start to learn a little more about both organisations. Through Garret’s flashbacks we learn about how the Order trains its troops and through Dante’s chapters we see more of Talon’s long term plans. It still didn’t feel like enough but it was at least something to reignite my curiosity about where this series will go next.

Solider was as slow to start as the previous instalments of the series but did begin to draw together at the half-way mark, ramping up to a very tense climax. Yet there was still something missing. I’m having a hard time putting my finger on it but I think it boils down to the fact that everything was just a little too easy for the protagonists. St George is an organisation with centuries of experience in battling dragons and Talon is like a secret society, controlling the world from the shadows. How is it, therefore, that both of these powerhouses are outwitted time and time again by two young dragons, a former soldier and a hacker?

However, my biggest issue with the series is still the way that the dragons are presented. While reptilian coldness can be seen in the villains of the story, it doesn’t seem to extend to our heroes (and participants in the obligatory love triangle). When I first read Talon, I was really intrigued by Kagawa’s world of hidden dragons but I don’t feel like she executes this very effectively. The dragons in the story aren’t weredragons. They were never human, they’re just enormous monsters who are capable of taking human form. This idea was executed brilliantly in Seraphina, where the dragons are sentient but behave very differently to their human allies. In Talon, the dragons just seem to be a little confused.

Both Ember and Riley constantly speak about their dragon side as though it’s a possessing entity. Ember often says things to the effect of “my dragon stirred” while Riley refers to himself only as Riley when in human form and Cobalt the rest of the time. This wouldn’t be a problem if they were weredragons but this isn’t the case in Kagawa’s story. Their dragon side shouldn’t always be at war with their human side because they shouldn’t have a human side at all. They’re not human. Riley swears that they can’t even feel human emotion but still seems to have jealousy, excitement and vindictiveness down to a fine art. I still can’t quite get my head around what Kagawa is trying to do in this regard. She just constantly seems to be telling her readers that dragons are different to humans, while at the same time presenting them as being entirely human.

The novel also ends on a rather shameless cliffhanger, leaving the book feeling unfinished on the whole. This was particularly frustrating for me as I’ve picked up this book to review in its first month of publication, meaning that I have to wait for an entire year to discover if all of the protagonists made it out of the story unscathed. While this is entirely my own personal bugbear, I still loathe it when authors do this. It just always feels cheap and entirely unsatisfactory.

In terms of characterisation, Soldier was just really more of the same. Ember still struggles between her instinctual attraction towards Riley (which is now given a name – Sallith’tahn – and treated a bit like imprinting is within Eclipse), Riley is still a possessive jerk and Garret remains the only character in the series that I have any kind of attachment to. Really, what Kagawa has done to Ember is still the most disappointing aspect of her characters. I loved Ember’s fire and independence in Talon. Now she just laments about being unable to choose a boyfriend and cheers on Garret from the sidelines.

Yet, to be fair, Soldier is supposed to be Garret’s story (just as Talon was Ember’s and Rogue was kind of Riley’s). For me, this made it all a little more tolerable. It was interesting to see the few brief flashbacks of Garret’s childhood to understand better about what made him devote himself to the Order. While I did enjoy this aspect of the story, I never really gravitated towards the villain. The Patriarch was very clichéd, presenting himself as your typical corrupted priest. His zealotry quickly became tiring to read. Just how can a man deliver paragraphs of religious diatribe while sword fighting? It just felt a little too extreme for me to take seriously.

So, to conclude, I will at least say that I think the series is improving. While I didn’t enjoy Soldier anywhere near as much as I did Talon, it was still a step up from Rogue and that gives me the confidence to continue. I’m hoping we see more of Dante in the fourth book in the series, as his story is one that is so far lacking, but I suppose we’ll have to wait until next year to find out.

Soldier can be purchased as a Paperback, eBook and Audio Book on Amazon.co.uk

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  1. Trackback: Legion | Arkham Reviews

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