Book Review: Talonsister (Talon Duology, #1) by Jen Williams

Book Review: Talonsister (Talon Duology, #1) by Jen Williams

ARC provided by the publisher—Titan Books—in exchange for an honest review.

Cover art by Julia Lloyd

Talonsister by Jen Williams

My rating: 3.5 of 5 stars

Series: The Talon Duology(Book #1 of 2)

Genre: Fantasy, High Fantasy

Pages: 560 pages (Kindle edition)

Published: 12th September 2023 by Titan Books

Talonsister is a slow-burn low-stakes novel that rewards its reader with an explosive high-stakes ending.

It is not an easy task to review Talonsister. I have been a fan of The Winnowing Flame trilogy by Jen Williams for roughly four years now. It can be gratifying to recommend The Winnowing Flame trilogy to other fantasy readers. When I hear readers start reading The Winnowing Flame trilogy, or any fantasy series, because of my review and recommendations, it satisfies me if they love the recommended series. It is a pleasure of mine, why I continue reviewing, and I’m even mentioned in the acknowledgment of Talonsister for doing that. And I am incredibly thankful for this badge of honor. The Poison Song, the final book in The Winnowing Flame trilogy, was released in 2019. And for the past four years, seeing new readers flock to the trilogy has undoubtedly been a joy. But yes, four years! It has been four years since The Winnowing Flame was concluded, and Talonsister marked the first time Jen Williams returned to the fantasy scene since then. This was easily one of my most anticipated books of the year. And with such high expectations, I am both happy and sad to say there were a few aspects where Talonsister did and did not meet my high expectations.

“A hundred loyal men and women, their memories erased and their dedication to the Imperium absolute. Their bodies are inscribed with the power of the Titans, and none will stand in their way.”

If you want to know the premise of Talonsister, I recommend you to check out the official blurb on Goodreads or Amazon. It did a great job explaining the premise without giving any spoilers away. Now, from me, if you’re going to read Talonsister, my advice is this: prepare for a slow-burn narration with exploration as the sole driving strength in the first 65% of the book. Talonsister takes place in a world inspired by Britain. From the map and the names of the locations, this is obvious. And we get to follow four main POV characters throughout the novel. But here’s the thing. Their storyline, all four POV characters, initially revolves around a single mission. These missions, although different from one another, are basically getting from one place to the destination. And within, the first 300 pages were full of slow-burn relationship development, explorations, world-building, and exploration. This is usually okay to do. I have read and loved many novels that utilize this minimal plotting while focusing on characterizations and developments. But the first 65%, more or less 300 pages of the book, barely have conflicts. And when they existed, they were too low-stakes to immerse me. And yes, that is how long it took before the story turned exciting and engaging for me. It was a slog reading through the first half of Talonsister, something I did not expect from Jen Williams’s fantasy novel.

‘Convinced he is special, that one. Ynis, beware of those who are convinced of their own specialness– it usually means they can’t see further than their own beaks.’

Thankfully, Talonsister was not thoroughly disappointing. It could be that if we read only the first half. If you persevere to the end and have read The Winnowing Flame trilogy, you will know Jen Williams is not a storyteller who wastes all the build-up to the world-building and character work. Unique world-building and great characters are some of Jen Williams’ forte as a fantasy writer, and as I said, we follow the perspective of four main characters in Talonsister. Ynis is an orphaned human kid raised by Griffins. Leven, a powerful Herald with a mission to go to Brittletain to solve the mystery behind the disappearance of her fellow Herald and the reoccurring strange visions she keeps seeing that tell her to go to Brittletain. Then, a druin named Cillian is assigned to be Leven’s tour guide in Brittletain. Finally, there is Kaeto, an Envoy of the Imperium in charge of accompanying the bone-crafter, Gynid Tyleigh, across the Imperium in search of new Titan bones. Although it is true the low stakes and the slow burn did not make me feel invested in the main characters in the first half of the novel, my opinion and feelings have shifted in the final 35%.

‘Sadness and pain are nothing to be ashamed of. They are important parts of our lives, the darker twin to love and joy. Without them, without all these things, we are incomplete.

By the end, as it turns out, I did care about the friendship between Leven, Cillian, and Epona. More than I thought I would! The same goes for Ynis. I found it difficult to feel interested in Kaeto’s storyline for most of the book because his story felt so disjointed compared to the rest. It was not until the end, after a big revelation and convergence, that I finally ended up enjoying Kaeto’s storyline and his affection for Belise. Jen Williams left the best of the series in the final 35%, and although there were times when I almost DNFed the book, I am glad I strived to the end. The last third of Talonsister is Jen Williams at her best. I cannot deny I do wish I felt invested in the story and characters much earlier in the story, just like I did with The Ninth Rain. But I still got what I wanted from Talonsister, even if it was later than expected.

“Brittletain is built on the bones of giants, it is said, and a great skull is buried underneath the kingdom of Galabroc. Beneath the keep there are echoing tunnels of bone, and dark spirits walk there, thinking only of the lost ages of ice. As bright and bustling as Galabroc is, as sturdy and as forthright its people, it is a melancholy place, and such mood seeps into the earth and stones. The ghosts are so old that no one knew their names even in my time. I do not like to go to Galabroc.”

In other words, to put it simply, your patience with Talonsister will be rewarded. If you are in the mood for reading a slow-burn narrative about a found family in an intricate world reminiscent of Princess Mononoke, then you cannot go wrong reading Talonsister. After that ending, I certainly look forward to reading the conclusion of Talon Duology as soon as possible. Hopefully, there will be a detailed summary of what has happened in this book by the time the sequel and final book of the duology is out. Once again, thank you so much to Jen Williams for including me in the acknowledgment of Talonsister. Even though I did not enjoy this as much as The Winnowing Flame trilogy, I still will undoubtedly recommend Talonsister to the correct readers.

“I’d also like to send huge dollops of gratitude to Petrik Leo, Elliot Brooks and The Broken Binding, who together brought a whole new audience to the Winnowing Flame trilogy. Publishing can be a hard business, often crushing entire authors underfoot, so it’s incredibly uplifting to witness the power of people who just love books and reading and want to share their passion. Bravo!”

You can order this book from: Blackwells (Free International shipping)

The quotes in this review were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

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