The Talon of the Hawk

The Twelve Kingdoms: The Talon of the Hawk - Jeffe Kennedy

[I received a copy of this novel through NetGalley, in exchange for an honest review.]

This book concludes the “Twelve Kingdoms” trilogy (at least, I think it does, as I'm not aware of a fourth book being in the works). Just as Andromeda and Amelia had their novels in the series, this time Ursula gets hers, too. Ursula, the elder sister and Heir to the throne, fiercely noble and loyal, trying to do what she feels is right, upholding her rank without overstepping it. Ursula, who always did her best to protect her younger sisters from darkness that stemmed from far deeper than was led to see in the previous novels.

There was quite a dichotomy to Ursula's character. She got to know Salena for the longest, but int turn, her death also hurt her the most. She honed her skills, her mind, her body through hard training and sheer willpower, and had to learn very quickly to navigate court politics and to handle her father, who was clearly not the kindest nor most balanced person; yet at the same time, she felt she had to let go of a lot of other things that she perceived as going against this—because deep inside, she could never physically become the son, the male heir Uorsin always wanted, and didn't want to look “too feminine” or “weak”. She showed herself a pillar of strength, paving the way for her sisters' freedom, while keeping herself trapped and isolated out of love for them and out of her perception of loyalty. In the end, what she had to learn wasn't to become “stronger”, but to accept that sometimes, being strong also means allowing other people to help you.

In general, her evolution was a positive one. She made a lot of mistakes, and sometimes her determination to not change was mind-boggling; however, when she acknowledged what had gone wrong, she always tried to change it, to become better, even though it meant challenging her own world, the truth she had built for herself, a truth that could leave her to collapse if it was to disappear.

And here is where I'm not very satisfied with the story: because a lot of those changes came through Harlan. (That's no spoiler: the romance was obvious from the beginning. Bonus for the sex scenes that weren't as ridiculous as in the other books, because Ursula didn't shy away from more down-to-earth vocabulary.) Now, Harlan was a very decent human being and male love interest, let it be said: a strong mercenary warrior, who liked Ursula precisely for her warrior qualities and for basically who she was, never looking to change her, to make her into someone different, or expecting her to conform to some kind of ideal. Granted, he annoyed me at first, with his habit of getting into Ursula's personal space—I felt it was insta-love on his part, and that the falling-in-mutual-love part went too fast, as if he insinuated himself into Ursula's life without leaving her any choice in the matter. On the other hand, once she got to spill her guts, he supported her all the way, encouraged her, showed much patience and understanding. No Uorsin was he.

However, this also carried the message that for Ursula to “get better”, to get reconciled with herself, she necessarily had to find “a man” and “a love interest”. I found it diminished the importance of her character development here, of how strong she was supposed to be, and of other forms of love: not her sisters, not Dafne, not an exceptional friendship, but a guy first and foremost. An unusual damsel in distress she was, but yet again one who needed saving by a man. Also, Harlan's presence looked like a forced trigger, to spur her into action; without his presence, Ursula may not have developed into the person she had to become, may have remained at Ordnung all the time, or may have made her decisions much too late.

Another big problem I had was the introduction of Illyria in the story. Terin and the rebels, alright, since we already saw them in the previous books. Illyria, though, didn't have much background nor motives to her: why did she want the Star so badly, to the point of coming to Ordnung for it? What did she really aim for? Was there more to learn about Deyrr? Was she really needed to enforce what a tyrant Uorsin was? The High King had already demonstrated previously that he could do that very well on his own... especially once the way he treated Ursula was clearly revealed.

Finally, the ending felt pretty abrupt, considering the build-up. Half the book was devoted to romance, and it didn't leave as much room as needed to tie up both Ursula's story and the three sisters' arcs, not to mention the political plot around the High Throne and the Heir.

Conclusion: Good siblings dynamics; a satisfying ending, but too quickly wrapped; an additional villain that didn't add much to the story; and a love story that, while interesting, left me wondering about the whole damsel in distress thing. 2.5 stars / “It's OK” rating.