Ember and her brother Dante are young dragons sheltering in the Talon, a world-wide organisation encompassing all dragons from the genocidal threat of the Order of St George. It’s a threat that looms even as Ember chafes at the restrictions Talon places on her – and the future it has planned for her.
Out in the human world for the first time, they are being hunted by St. George – including the hunter Garrett who is trying to discover which human in town is a dragon; and in doing so gets far closer to Ember than he expected.
When I saw this book I thought it seemed very original – I mean, I haven’t read a lot of Urban Fantasy concerning dragons out there so dragons having to pass as human and avoid being hunted while still being quintessentially draconic seemed like an excellently different concept, one I’ve only read once before.
Except it isn’t – because it doesn’t matter that these creatures are dragons hunted by the Order of St. George. They could be vampires hunted by the Order of Van Helsing. They could be werewolves hunted by the Order of the Silver Bullet. They could be fae hunted by the Order of the Iron Cross. They could be Telemarketers hunted by the Order of Screamed Obscenities and Hanging Up. It’s irrelevant, the story would be identical. The actual kind of supernatural being makes no difference at all to the plot, the character development or anything else. It’s a tragic waste of world building, development and original idea.
Ember herself is a horrendously generic character for someone who is supposed to be non-human. She thinks like a teenaged girl (and not a particularly smart one at that) not a dragon hatchling. Her mindset is entirely human. The few tiny attempts to show that she isn’t human (her like of shiny things) are miniscule mentions that don’t relate to the story. This is not only a wasted opportunity but it makes little sense in the limited world building provided and leaves Ember feeling like an extremely clichéd, generic character which is terrible because she SHOULD be more alien than just about anything I’ve read. She’s a giant firebreathing reptile, she was hatched from an egg, she isn’t even a mammal. Her viewpoint should be so far from human (or vampire or werewolf which are at least partially human!) as it’s possible to be – but there is nothing different about her. Worse we have some weird elements that just don’t fit and feel cribbed from other books – why does Ember refer to her dragon wanting something? Why does she even use the lines “my dragon wants…”? Why does she argue with “her dragon”? She is a dragon – not a possessed or changed human, this makes no sense. It’d be like me saying “I tried to walk past the shop, but my human was craving coffee”. I may try that in future “I was going to finish that job, but my human was bored by it.” It’s bizarre and feels like someone lifting “my wolf” lines from werewolf stories without thinking whether they’re appropriate or not.
And why does a giant flying reptile have any sexual or romantic interest in a small squishy ape anyway? Why isn’t their whole concept of what is attractive and sexy and appealing completely alien? Why would a creature without lips feel any excitement about kissing? There’s some attempt at this with Ember originally not knowing what makes humans attractive, but that all shatters when she sees her love interest so it comes off as less “I’m a dragon and don’t care about squishy monkeys” and more “I only feel attracted to my super special guy!” Which is an oh-so-common trope.
Sadly, her complete lack of draconic nature isn’t the only problem with Ember’s characterisation – there’s also a major problem with Ember, the rebel-without-a-clue. Ember hates the Talon and it’s terrible oppressiveness and is continually pushing against its rules, risking herself and her brother as she continually pushes the boundaries and consorts with illegal rogues. I could understand this is Talon was a terribly oppressive organisation that Ember cannot endure…
…But we don’t see any of this particularly until the end of the book. Sure, life under Talon isn’t happy happy fun and there’s a lot less freedom than you’d get outside it, but at the same time they are actually a species that is constantly hunted and under threat of extinction by a group of genocidal hunters and/or exposure to the world. The book opens quite early with Garrett, the principle love interest, hunting down and killing a dragon. Talon expecting everyone to be members (and even makes a reasonable point that dragons nearly became extinct BECAUSE they were independent and territorial and refused to work together) and play by the rules doesn’t feel all that unreasonable until the very very end of the book. But Ember is rebelling and investigating and meeting Riley and all suspicious long before then. At the time when Ember is acting out, she’s a 16 year old whining because she has lessons in the morning (so only has the afternoon to surf and hang out with friends) and has a curfew by midnight (the horror!) and she isn’t allowed to turn into a dragon and fly over a human city and popular holiday destination. These rules aren’t unreasonable, they aren’t oppressive and Ember comes across as a whiny, tantrumming teenager because of it.