The Twelve Kindgoms is a richly textured world. There are kings and queens, sword and sorcery, knights and princesses, and most importantly, history. Picked out against this colorful tapestry, we have the tale of Uorsin, the High King, and his three daughters – Andromeda, Amelia and Ursula. The Talon of the Hawk, the third and final book in ‘The Twelve Kingdoms’ trilogy, is Ursula’s story. It’s also the story of three women coming into their own, and the one woman who risked everything for her kingdom.
I’ll try not to spoil the previous two novels in this review by keeping the plot details vague, but though The Talon of the Hawk could be enjoyed separately, the full measure of the book can only be gained by starting at the beginning with the The Mark of the Tala.
Ursula returns to Ordnung under a dismal cloud of failure. Though she chose to return – in part to prove her loyalty – her father the High King is not pleased. While girding herself against his displeasure, Ursula’s reflects on the fact this is nothing new. Had she succeeded in any part of her mission, the king might have found fault in her methods. That her father appears to linger on the cusp of madness all but breaks Ursula’s heart. For all he is a bastard, she remembers him as the man who united the Twelve Kingdoms.
Confined to the castle as punishment for her failure, Ursula must watch as her father’s behavior dismantles all he built. It’s apparent, however, that the degradation of the Kingdom is not new – so much so, King Uorsin has retained a mercenary army to guard against invasion. Harlan, the captain of the mercenaries, immediately captures Ursula’s attention – mostly because he is unquantified. He appears to have her father’s confidence, but Ursula finds it difficult to trust a man who would sell his loyalty to the highest bidder. Ursula also gains Harlan’s attention, and though she makes it plain his advances are unwelcome, he is persistent. Then there is the other mysterious guest, the woman who seems to have beguiled King Uorsin.
Startling events have Ursula fleeing the castle under the protection of Harlan and her Hawks to continue her original mission, only this time, the price of failure will be more than her father’s displeasure. It could mean the High Throne and the fate of the Twelve Kingdoms.
The Talon of the Hawk deepens the story began in The Mark of the Tala before we get to the hoped for conclusion. Ursula has been at odds with her sisters throughout the trilogy, and though her actions have always been understandable in a way, here we truly begin to understand her character. Named for her father, Ursula has been raised as heir to the high throne. She lives, and would die, for her king and her country. All her actions and reactions are focused on this goal. She is a warrior, first and foremost. She leads the elite Hawks with confidence. She is not quite as comfortable at court, but will don a dress and play her part because it is her duty – and that is the essential Ursula: her sense of duty. Yet nothing she accomplishes seems to be quite enough to win her father’s approval, because she is not male. When it is revealed exactly how hard Ursula has tried to address Uorsin’s need for a son, your heart will break.
Luckily, Harlan is standing by to pick up the pieces, and he does, multiple times, as Ursula begins to fracture beneath the stress of doing what’s best for her kingdom. Their romance is the most rewarding in the series. But what I enjoyed most about this final volume in the trilogy was the collaboration between all three sisters. Their connection has been important throughout, and each has had a role to play in every adventure. Here, more than ever, their love for one another is obvious, as is the fact they must trust one another, even when they disapprove of certain actions and beliefs. Neither can save the High Throne alone. They must work together.
The conclusion of the book is extremely moving. There is an inevitability to it, but you can’t help hoping Ursula finds another way. I’d like to say more, but I don’t want to spoil the end of the ride. Regardless, it’s a satisfying end with further revelations that make the journey worthwhile.
Written for SFCrowsnest.