Talon of the Unnamed Goddess is a fantasy adventure tale with much to recommend it, but which, in my opinion, ultimately falls short of fulfilling its potential.
The story follows a young woman named Aisha Talon who has undergone special training to become one of the Talon assassins/warriors/bodyguards/hired-knives. But we quickly learn that it is not because of Aisha's fighting prowess that she has successfully completed her training, for though she fights very well, it is her calculating mind that sees her through, as she constantly out-wits her opponents. We see this side of Aisha early on as she completes her training, and the authors utilize this ability of hers repeatedly throughout the book to solve various problems.
Fresh out of training, Aisha is assigned as the chaperone/bodyguard of a princess, and in an ensuing coup, the princess Rhiannon escapes with Aisha, and thus begins the quest to reclaim her throne. I suppose one could properly describe the book as a war story, as civil war is essentially at the heart of the matter, and there are very few chapters that do not center on the fighting. Rhiannon, under Aisha's guidance, learns to make alliances, make contracts with the Talons, twist arms to get what she wants, and win the people's support in the war.
Firstly, let me begin my review by talking about the magic system, as this is a fantasy. Magic revolves around a series of six sigils that impart powers such as warrior skills, lie detection, illusion, healing, and two others I can't now recall. But there is a seventh sigil, one that nobody has ever possessed before because the goddess granting it has never allowed the sigil to "take" to a man or woman. Until Aisha. She gains the power of negation, and keeps it a secret to hide her advantage. In essence, negation allows her to negate all operating sigils in her surrounding, so that someone with a truth sigil will not know she's lying, or someone with a warrior sigil will think he can fight but in fact loses the ability, and so forth. The authors use her negation skill sparingly, which is a good thing, as it is an incredibly powerful ability. In all things, Aisha exercises excellent judgment.
The plot itself is straightforward and linear, progressing from point to point with very few surprises. In fact, the surprise is rather taken out of the story by Aisha's ability to accurately predict what people will do. She would be quite the chess prodigy if she were a real human being, and while this makes her a very strong and able woman in a man's world, it made everything seem far too easy. The plot comes across as light-weight because you never really feel Aisha is going to meet her match. You never feel there is any threat to her whatsoever. Ironically, for a fantasy, this is not due to magical ability but to acute mental facilities.
There is also a bit of romance here, and for me this was the most disappointing aspect of the book. It seemed almost as though the authors felt obligated to play to genre stereotypes and include a romantic interest for our intrepid young heroine. It felt tacked on and rather out of place in a story that focused so heavily on war. That the love story is one of love-at-first-sight and the man can't keep his eyes off of her and proposes marriage almost in their first conversation, well, you see what I mean. It was distracting and entirely unnecessary. If anything, the romance only serves to give Aisha the kind of problems that planning a war seem unable to provide her: i.e. a challenge.
Finally, a word more about Aisha's character. She is a very strong female character, and struggles growing up in a predominantly male environment as she trains to become a Talon. All of the trials of youth have instilled a toughness in her that is admirable. However, it is very hard to see Aisha as the nineteen-year-old that she is. I understand that her training would have matured her faster than normal, but the authors constantly remind us of her youth only then to have us believe that old men, and experienced in war and politics, bow to her wisdom in everything. It seemed a bit of a stretch at times, and I think she needed a foil to cross her advice, as well as to fail in judgment a couple of times. Nevertheless, I expect readers will enjoy the Chess Master mind she has, which is a quality I've not encountered in a fantasy for some time.
Over all, Talon of the Unnamed Goddess is an enjoyable distraction for a weekend. I don't think anyone is going to come away from this thinking it is a masterpiece of the genre as there are problems, but it is a fun diversion and worth picking up nonetheless.