Talon by Janet Lee Carey

Title: Talon
Author: Janet Lee Carey
Series : no, its a stand alone

In Short: Princess Rosalind is the  heir to Wilde Island. It is 12th century. In nearby England, Empress Maud and King Stephen are fighting the long civil war.  The war that Princess Rosie will end, or so everyone believes.  Six hundred years ago Merlin made prophecy that the twenty first Queen of Wilde Island would “end the war with a wave of her hand.”  But pretty Princess Rosie has a secret.   Under her golden gloves she hides a “beast mark” – a fingers shaped like a lizards talon, tipped with a curving claw.

talon

What I thought: It took me a little while to get get into the rhythm of this book.  I was prejudiced by the cover, for some reason.  Its a very pretty cover, but it made me expect a humourless and overly florid romance.  I was wrong. This is probably one of the most down to earth descriptions of Medieval life I’ve read, even to the fleas in Rosie’s hair.

But the best thing about this book is hinted at by its cover.  Wilde Island is haunted by a dragon.  The list of victim’s on the Dragon Stone gets longer every year.  Dragon slayers are sent to it’s island, but they never come back.   I’ve found most fantasy books frustratingly vague about their dragons.   Here we get to know them up close and personal, down to the colour of their pee.

talon2

The story is told by Rosie herself.  She  is a passionate and innocent young girl. Her relationship to her mother drives the story.  The Queen has her own agenda.  She interprets Merlin’s prophecy to mean that Rosie will ascend the British throne.  She is obsessed with this vision of the end of exile in Wilde Island.  But  one great obstacle stands in Rosie’s way:  if anyone were to find out about the her claw she would be burnt as a witch.

The story plays with many fairy tale themes – the Briar Rose, the Goose Girl, the Swan Princess and many others. The love between mother and daughter is central to the plot.  There is cruelty and compassion, manipulation and obsession.  The themes of self hatred and adolescence reminded me strongly of Rafe Martin’s Birdwing. Both books deal with a human body that is part animal and the resulting struggle to subdue the irrational.

By the time I was a some way into this book, I had lost my reservations.  Its a tough book to read.  The tone is set in the opening scene:  we meet the Queen, knife in hand, trimming Rosie’s claw down to the quick so that it will fit into her golden gloves. The story finds a tender spot and never lets up on its pressure. It took me a while to settle into the writing style.  The humour is grim, and the narrator’s voice verges between the formal rhythms of a chant, and a wild poetry:

The sea was grey as hag’s hair, and the river was a grey strand flowing into it.

Or a little bit further on:

Handy with my crutch, I scurried down the trail, my heart clattering in my chest like Cook’s spoon in a kettle.

And here is a description of Rosie  and a boy called Kyle finding a dragon’s egg torn open by the sea.  The “pip” is the dragon foetus:

Beautiful, Kyle whispered touching the smooth outer shell.  He motioned to me.  “Come round here and see this”.  I crossed the sand, stepping soft as a cat, and knelt down beside Kyle.

There, etched on the white shell, was the pale green outline of the dragon pip.  The sea had torn the pip from the shell and nothing was left now but the etching of her curled form.  I saw in the outline how the tip of the pip’s tail came to her mouth, as if she’d thought to suckle it.  The sea had left three blue-green scales behind.  Stuck to the shell, they were the size and shape of rose petals.

By the time I finished it, I loved this gritty, lovely book.  To borrow a descriptive technique from Sharna of Libri Touches – reading this book is like digging  in coarse, damp beach sand with hands tender from the cold to find the sharp, lovely shells.

2 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. pavinee
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 10:43:56

    Lovely cover!

    I can’t say I’m a fan of fantasy fiction, haven’t read enough books to say it. This one seems too difficult for me to read, judging from paragraphs quoted here. But I’ll never know until I actually read it 🙂

    It’s going to rain now here in Bangkok, The sky is full of heavy, grey cloud. Hope you have nice weather in your country 🙂

  2. mashadutoit
    Sep 22, 2009 @ 11:26:57

    It’s spring at last. Such a lovely sunny day too 🙂

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