Last of the Talons by Sophie Kim
Publisher: Entangled Teen
Number of pages: 416
Published: September 27th, 2022
Source: Giveaway via Young Adult Book Central and book from publisher
Opening Line: "The Temple of Ruin has been abandoned for centuries, but it's an unspoken rule that nobody enters the looming pagoda."
Last of the Talons comes from a new to me imprint, Entangled Teen. In her author's note at the beginning of the book, Sophie Kim explains her desire to write a story that highlights her Korean culture and the need to add to the number of Korean mythology retellings that have been absent for so long. She hoped the book would break some of the stereotypical characters and roles that Korean's have previously been portrayed as and allow for readers who haven't seen Korean representation in books to see Korean gods and goddesses within the pages. The story is a retelling of the Pied Piper and is derived from the Tale of Manpasikjeok (also known as A Black Jade Belt and the Flute to Calm Ten Thousand Waves). Kim states that she took many creative spins to the text adding Dokkaebi (Korean goblins), Imugi (giant serpents), Gwisin (spirits or ghosts) and the underworld realm of Jeoseung.
Shin Lina is The Reaper of Sunpo, and a member of the Talons, one of the revered gangs of Sunpo. The Talons are Lina's found family, her friends who've protected each other. Then a rival gang came, led by Konrarnd Kalmin, and the Blackbloods slaughtered everyone but Lina and Enubi, Lina's younger sister. Since then, Lina has been forced to be the Blackbloods assassin and thief.
As the story begins, Shin Lina is on a midnight heist at The Temple of Ruin, where she's hoping to steal a tapestry from the legendary Pied Piper. At first everything seems to have gone well, she retrieved the tapestry and Kalmin seems to be satisfied, but The Pied Piper isn't going to let his prize possession go that easily. Following an encounter on the roof with Lina, The Pied Piper kidnaps Kalmin and Lina is blamed by Kalmin's right hand, Asina. Asina gives Lina an ultimatum, return Kalmin within thirty days or she'll kill Enubi. When Lina doesn't respond to the Pied Pipers cat and mouse game as he expected, he then teleports her to Gyeulcheon (a realm of his making) and makes a bargain of his own, she must kill him within fourteen days, or he'll kill her. To seal the deal, he gives her an hourglass necklace. Lina is once again forced into playing someone else's game to win her and Kalmin's freedom and return to Sunpo in time to save her sister.
I quite enjoyed this Korean inspired mythology. I kind of see it as a cross between Twilight, Six of Crows and maybe even a smidge of Nevernight, mostly because it also contains a female assassin. The Dokkaebi were new to me, and I found them, and the world Kim created very fascinating. This is the kind of fantasy that is easy for me to get lost in, snarky comments, assassins and this sort of love/hate vibe going on between Lina and the Pied Piper (the emperor, Haneul Rui) and the angsty chemistry between the two is on fire. I'm not sure how much I bought into the enemies to lovers' idea, but overall, I really enjoyed the story. Lina certainly earns her name as the Reaper too. She's skilled with a blade, agile, trusting and willing to do anything to save her sister, despite making several major mistakes. At the same time, Lina is haunted by the deaths of her friends, the former Talons, each night she is tormented by nightmares and regrets over their death. There's a considerable amount of survivor's guilt and she constantly beats herself up, feeling that she could have done more to save them. I liked how the story incorporated Lina's past with a sort of dream like quality, highlighting several moments she shared with her former gang. Overall, just a really fun immersive read with characters and a world that while being dangerous is also exciting to read about. I'm very curious about what will happen next in the series and will defiantly be seeking out Wrath of the Talon when it releases in 2023. As a final note, I really appreciated the page at the back of the book warning about certain elements of the story that may not be suitable for all readers.
**A huge thank you to YABC for the giveaway and Entangled Teen for the hardcover**
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