Wednesday, January 3, 2024

Microreview: Talonsister by Jen Williams

A world of lost titans, a grasping empire, and schemes within schemes from the courts of queens to the aeries of griffins.

From the jungles of the south and a mysterious lost city, to a grasping central empire, to the far north of a proud island of independent nations, mountains inhabited by Griffins, a variety of characters come together in Jen Williams’ epic fantasy Talonsister.

There are three major storylines and viewpoints Williams employs to tell a wide ranging and big canvas epic story. Ynis is a human raised by griffins, abandoned as a baby, and by chance and fate raised by creatures that normally would have eaten her. We get to see her slowly discover she has a singular-for-humans power and ability that even only a few griffins have--to see the ties of the living and the dead. Ynis desire for a place among the griffins, and the love of her griffin sister T’nook drive her and her narrative. 

Leven is a former Herald of the Empire.  She has “done her time” helping expand the ever ravenous would-be world conquering Empire. As a Herald, she has had the essence of the mostly vanished Titans put into her body, making her able to transform, Utena style, into a winged fighter with a sword who can sweep the battlefield clear. These Heralds have helped the Empire conquer much of the world, and are needed to maintain it. But now veteran Leven is soon on the unconquered and mysterious island of Brittletain, and soon gets wrapped up in the intrigues of its queens and Druins (read: druids), especially Cillian, who has been assigned to be her guide. And then there is the impetuous Epona, a princess who decides that that this dangerous imperial visitor needs watching.

The third point of view is Kaeto. This envoy and his daughter have been employed by Tyleigh, who is the architect of the Herald program. The problem is, the sources of titan bones are running out. So, to find more, and to find out more about the Titans, Tyleigh has employed Kaeto to lead her into the jungle to find a fabled city of the titans which could contain enough material to maintain the Empire’s conquests and expand them. Tyleigh is definitely interested in maintaining the Imperial Project. Kaeto is caught in the tangle of Tyleigh’s interests.

With these three characters and the characters with them (who often get POV chapters of their own), Williams sets to telling her tale. I had been sold on getting this book dispatched across the wide Atlantic (there is no US edition) because of the promise of griffins. Dragons are great, but I am firmly and always have been Team Griffin. Here, the griffins of the north of Brittletain are among the few remaining living Titans, think of them as elder races, mostly now gone aside from bones and fossils that people like Tyleigh use for their own ends. The griffins are just one large chunk of this book, as we meet the Druin (druids), the secrets and dread powers of the Wild Wood that dominates the isle, the dangers of the jungle, and then of course the city itself that Tyleigh seeks.

So we get a bunch of other worldbuilding as well besides the griffins. We get scheming queens of Brittletain who scheme against each other and sometimes their own family. We get a diverse world that is queernorm right from the start. We get excellent action pieces that show off the powers and strengths (and without doubt, weaknesses) of the character in vivid descriptions that readers of, say, the Willowing Flame books will recognize. Action helps build characters, and Williams use of it is very key to us understanding our protagonists. Williams in prior books as well as this one likes to put characters who are quite different in the same “party” so that there is always friction (or wished for friction, in the case of a couple of characters) and so we get a full range of people to experience her vivid world. 

So that vivid world, aside from the creatures and people, is an excellently described range of landscapes from the nests of the griffins in this world’s equivalent of Scotland, through the wild wood that fills Brittletain, the courts of the various queens (and the nature of those palaces and courts also really reflect on the character of the queens themselves), the center of the empire, and the southern jungles. The locations come to life, whether in a slow trip through the wood, or a race through a castle with an angry queen’s guards at your back. I was immersed reading this, a boon and a blessing while stuck in a car dealership waiting to see what is wrong with your car.

One thing that I was counting on, and had made the wrong prediction about, was how the characters are tied to each other. Williams does a good job in her prior books to link up characters in their pasts and their present. This book is no exception. I had had the wrong idea how that connection was going to go, but when the dominos fell, it all made a lot of sense and is inarguably better than what my imagination thought it was going to be.

The book is an epic fantasy slow burn, where the pieces do move into place slowly at first, perhaps a bit slowly for its own good. The back half of the book, however, and especially the last quarter, the fireworks for all three character sets and groups really set off as the proverbial shoes drop for all three sets. Difficult decisions? Check. Uncovered plots and greater dangers? Check. And the aforementioned action sequences come in, hot.

Although it doesn’t seem to say directly, the book clearly intended to be the first in a duology or a  series, based on the “wham” endings on all three character groups. If Williams wanted me to salivate for the next book, she succeeded in spades. 

I can hope that the books find a US Publisher; in any event I intend to obtain the next volume one way or another.



  • Griffins!
  • Excellent and richly immersive worldbuilding
  • Strong female characters, queer friendly

Reference: Williams, Jen, Talonsister, [Titan Books, 2023]

POSTED BY: Paul Weimer. Ubiquitous in Shadow, but I'm just this guy, you know? @princejvstin.