I've been a fan of Julie Kagawa's work for years. She's an incredible author with a powerful voice, richly detailed worlds, pulse-pounding action, fantastic characterization, and is one of the best romance authors I know. She's also notoriously brutal for cliffhangers, but we'll get to that in a minute. I've loved every novel in the Talon Saga to date, and I knew that the third novel, Soldier, wouldn't disappoint me. Not only did it meet that expectation, it surpassed any other goal I could have possibly set for it. It was all I could do not to stop everything and finish the book from cover to cover, even though I knew the end was going to be about as crushing as I assumed it would be. This is Julie Kagawa, after all. This is a book review so I'm going to do some nitpicking, but believe me when I say that not only is Soldier the best in the Talon Saga so far, it's one of the best novels I've read all year. Nail-biting, shocking, emotional, and utterly fantastic, my one regret being that I had to put it down for Real Life.
The price of freedom is everything.
When forced to choose between safety with the dragon organization Talon and being hunted forever as an outcast, Ember Hill chose to stand with Riley and his band of rogue dragons rather than become an assassin for Talon. She’s lost any contact with her twin brother, Dante, a Talon devotee, as well as Garret, the former-enemy soldier who challenged her beliefs about her human side.
As Ember and Riley hide and regroup to fight another day, Garret journeys alone to the United Kingdom, birthplace of the ancient and secret Order of St. George, to spy on his former brothers and uncover deadly and shocking secrets that will shake the foundations of dragons and dragonslayers alike and place them all in imminent danger as Talon’s new order rises.
I didn't put a spoiler alert up because I don't want to give anything away. I want people who read this review to know as little as possible so they give in to temptation and start reading the Talon Saga. Yes, I know some older readers will frown because it's a Young Adult novel. Trust me when I say that doesn't matter in the least. The characters are mature, and their situation, particularly in Soldier, is compelling enough that the target audience doesn't matter. I'll recommend it to everyone until I'm blue in the face. Yes. That's how good it is.
The story itself was extremely strong. Kagawa is fantastic at writing plot twists, and I didn't see the massive game changer coming. Maybe because I didn't expect it so early on, but mostly because it was so monumental, I actually froze in place and re-read the sentence. I never do that. Yeah. That's how crazy it was. Though the major twist drove the story, it was by no means the only one. As I experienced the shock of each one, I truly felt connected to the characters. I knew the twist at the end would be utterly painful (and it was, but I won't for a single second believe it until the fourth book is out and proves me wrong), I definitely did not anticipate the final, earth-shattering twist in the epilogue. The combination of those two twists actually made it hard to focus on the next book I wanted to read. I've read 77 books so far this year, and I can't remember the last one that made me react this way.
The entire series is told from varying points of view: From Ember, a young dragon struggling to find a balance between humanity and her dragon instincts, Garret, a former dragon slayer on the run from the organization he dedicated his life to, Riley, leader of a dragon resistance, and Dante, Ember's twin and devoted member of dragon society. Normally, you would think that this is a lot of perspectives to juggle and that telling the difference between one character from the other could be confusing. Not true. Kagawa knows her characters well, and is able to convey that every time she shifts to another POV. Even if I didn't know the name of the character going into their corresponding chapter, or the settings that differentiated them, I would instantly know the difference by the character voice.
While I praise Soldier for its plot twists, the highlights were, as always, the characters. This was definitely a predominantly Garret story, which I was more than happy with, since he's my favourite. I love the insights we got to his past, his struggles, his determination, his morality, and his devotion to Ember. He had a plot twist himself, and I can't wait to know more about it. Ember and Riley both had strong stories as well, though I felt that their stories were a little too focused on their romance. It was key to Riley's part in the love triangle, and while I like him, I don't see myself investing in him as a love interest. Probably because I'm biased to Garret, but I like hearing about him and the resistance more than hearing about him with Ember. For Ember herself, her story was a cross between her conflicted emotions and her struggle to cope with the thing she must do in the war. I enjoyed those parts and wanted more, grateful that the romance was steadily paced throughout most of the story. Finally, I've heard some readers think Dante's story was boring, but I wholeheartedly disagree. It was shocking and while it was mostly set-up, it got me even more invested in his story. It was his twist at the very, very, very end that basically made my head spin. I get the feeling that the next Talon book will revolve mainly around Dante, and I'm honestly extremely eager for that.
The action was strong and thrilling, as it always is with Kagawa. Call me biased, but I think she's unquestionably one of the best authors of this generation, and a queen in writing Young Adult fiction. It's killing me that I have to wait another year for her next novel, but I was so blown away by her writing and Soldier in particular that I'm willing to suffer the wait. If you haven't read any of the Talon Saga yet, drop what you're doing and get your hands on a copy now. Soldier is absolutely one of my top books of the year, and I know that whatever Kagawa has planned next, it will rock my world harder than I'll ever anticipate. And I can't wait.