Last of the Talons is yet another epic fantasy based on East Asian, this time Korean, folklore to come out in recent years and it does not disappoint. Yet it brings something a bit different to the table. It is oozing with rage in a way that may come as a surprise for a book that is marketed as YA. However, that shouldn’t be a deterrent. Instead, it is exactly why you need to pick up this book in the first place.
Sophie Kim has done an exceedingly good job of creating the world her characters live in and the characters themselves. They are bloodthirsty and passionate. These emotions are what fuel the story and make the book hard to put down. Shin Lina, the protagonist, brings everything she’s got to the table and she won’t let you forget it.
Eighteen-year-old Shin Lina, The Reaper of Sunpo, is the sole survivor of her gang, The Talons. Afterwards, she is forced to work for the world’s most feared crime lord – a position she despises. Despite this, she must continue working for him in order to protect her younger sister, who they use to keep her in line. However, everything changes after she is instructed to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple. She succeeds, but there are unexpected consequences for the crime she has committed.
She has destroyed a piece treasured by the Dokkaebi emperor, Haneul Rui, and must pay the price. He whisks her away to the lands of the Dokkaebi, immortal creatures created from the blood of the gods, and challenges her to a game – she may only go free if she can kill him within a strict time limit.
Tasked with the impossible, Lina must find a way to defeat the almighty emperor before her times runs out or her sisters life will be at risk. In the process, she will meet many and learn much, but at what cost?
A really interesting aspect of this novel is how absolutely raw the emotions are throughout the whole story. From the beginning, Lina is feisty and powerful – even in her weakened and controlled state. She is quick to express her emotions, regardless of how vulgar they may be, and stays true to herself. While this is a common trait of other protagonists in the genre, Lina is particularly honest.
Perhaps this difference in atmosphere is due to the language that Lina uses in Last of the Talons. She does not shy away from cursing and there are other characters that use foul language as well. Kim has pushed the limits of the genre with her characterization of Lina and it is super refreshing.
Revenge is Sweet but Complex
Another key aspect of the story is how focused it is on revenge. Both Lina and Rui are focused on this and it is a huge portion of their life or death game. Lina is a trained assassin who isn’t shy with her words or her actions. Rui is an immortal with powers unimaginable. Yet they both share the same desire for revenge. Their thirst for blood is more or less unrivaled.
However, their desire for revenge is far from simple. They have both experienced indescribable traumas that fuel their rage. It is not simply a matter of getting revenge, but also about finding themselves in the process. This makes their character development really interesting and plays directly into how raw the emotions of the characters are in the novel.
Overall, Last of the Talons is a genre-defying type of novel. It just fits into its niche while also playing hard to the sensibilities of readers of other genres as well. From blood and foul language to the passion, it definitely brings something to the table for everyone. An absolutely stunning start to what will hopefully be an excellent trilogy. Cannot wait to read more about Lina and Rui in the coming volumes.
Note: While the publisher sent me this book for review, all opinions expressed within are my own.