Stories based on Korean legends and mythology are suddenly popping up all over in the world of YA fantasy— in all the very best ways. (Think Elizabeth Lim’s gorgeous Six Crimson Cranes duology, Axie Oh’s magical The Girl Who Fell Beneath The Sea, and Kat Cho’s addictive Gumiho series.) And Sophie Kim’s debut novel Last of The Talons sounds like it’s going to be another thrilling release in this vein.
The story of a teen assassin forced to work for her kingdom’s most dangerous crime lord in order to protect her younger sister, she finds herself at risk when she attracts the attention of a dangerous immortal known as a dokkaebi—a Korean goblin—and will have to use all her deadly skills to survive. Shades of Labyrinth and Six of Crows mix with Korean mythology to combine a lush and immersive fantasy world (and..that was pretty much all I needed to hear!)
Here’s the official description from the publisher:
After the destruction of her entire Talon gang, eighteen-year-old Shin Lina—the Reaper of Sunpo—is forced to become a living, breathing weapon for the kingdom’s most-feared crime lord. All that keeps her from turning on her ruthless master is the life of her beloved little sister hanging in the balance. But the order to steal a priceless tapestry from a Dokkaebi temple incites not only the wrath of a legendary immortal, but the beginning of an unwinnable game…
Suddenly Lina finds herself in the dreamlike realm of the Dokkaebi, her fate in the hands of its cruel and captivating emperor. But she can win her life—if she kills him first.
Now a terrible game of life and death has begun, and even Lina’s swift, precise blade is no match for the magnetic Haneul Rui. Lina will have to use every weapon in her arsenal if she wants to outplay this cunning king and save her sister…all before the final grain of sand leaks out of the hourglass.
Because one way or another, she’ll take Rui’s heart.
Even if it means giving up her own.
Last of the Talons won’t hit shelves until September, but we’ve got an exclusive first look at the cover—and an excerpt from the story itself to help tide you over until then.
One word jolts through my mind, as hot and burning as a shock of lightning.
My mouth goes dry. Impossible. The immortals never visit Sunpo… unless to lure citizens to Gyeulcheon.
And that is the work of only the Pied Piper.
My hand flies to my dagger.
Shit. Shit, shit, shit, shit. I want to scream to the heavens and beg for the gods to answer me, to protect me, to shield me from this creature.
Seokga, I think pleadingly, wishing that the trickster god would deign to listen. Please. Save me. Teach me a trick, a trick to escape…
But he will not. I know that.
I glance down to the street, and my blood turns to ice. Nobody below sees what’s happening on the two roofs, too preoccupied with purchasing trifles and trinkets.
I am alone. As always.
I can feel the Dokkaebi’s eyes on me. Their gaze feels… curious. Amused. But beneath it all, there’s an undercurrent of darker emotions.
Wariness. Animosity. Wrath.
The shadows covering the figure on the roof shiver and recede, seeping into the tiles of the roof below their feet like black ink, before disappearing completely.
There is a Dokkaebi across from me.
A Dokkaebi who is looking directly at me as he bites into a sugar roll.
Pure, undiluted terror finally plunges its icy blade into my chest and jerks me out of my daze of shock. My first thought is that he resembles a marble statue. His face is all chiseled angles, his frame long and lean. Even from my position on the opposite rooftop, I can make out the curves and slopes of the hard, toned chest that peeks from beneath his clothing—a long, flowing black robe cinched at the waist with a silver ribbon and embroidered with floral patterns mirrored on his black baji pants.
His long, dark hair doesn’t have a single midnight strand out of place as it falls to his chest. Parts of him, I suppose, could look mundane, like his tan skin and his glittering silver earrings. But those pointed ears could never pass as human. And his eyes… They are fox eyes, sly and angular, and they burn a vicious silver as they sear into my own. And yet, even with the complete lack of humanity within those swirling silver depths… he is the most beautiful creature I have ever seen.
My breath catches in my throat.
Slowly, the Dokkaebi considers the sugar rolls in his hands. I watch him with an uneven heartbeat as my fingers slowly drift to the sheathed dagger at my waist. Hopefully, I won’t have to attempt to use it against him.
But why is he here?
“These,” the Dokkaebi says, taking another bite of the sugar roll and chewing contemplatively, “what are they called?” His voice is soft, almost velvety, but I don’t miss the lethal undercurrent. He arches an eyebrow as he stares quizzically at the pastries.
“Is it routine for your people to pop onto rooftops out of nowhere?” The words tumble forth before I can fully think them through.
The Dokkaebi chuckles under his breath, and his blood red lips curve into a devastatingly gorgeous smile as he looks at me underneath thick, dark lashes. “Is it routine for your people to hurl perfectly good food off rooftops?”
Something stirs in my broken, bleeding heart as that silver gaze fixates on me and glitters with a clear invitation to taunt, to tease. “A Sunpo tradition. It’s said to bring good luck.”
“Is that so?” If those laughing eyes are any indication, it’s clear that he sees right through my bullshit, but I hold his gaze—more out of stubbornness than courage. I will not be the first to look away.
Doing my best to ignore the foolishly uneven thudding against my chest, I narrow my eyes at him. “What, exactly, are you looking at?”
The ghost of a laugh flickers through the air. “Nothing.” He pauses, his face flashing with something that causes me to blanch and instantly regret my sharp tongue. But a moment later, whatever sparked in his gaze has been extinguished. Only idle amusement remains. “I must have the wrong roof.”
I gape at him incredulously. “The wrong roof,” I repeat flatly.
“The wrong roof?”
“Indeed.” The barest hint of a smirk delicately curls itself around the Dokkaebi’s lips. “Farewell,” he says casually, too casually for what is undoubtedly a thousand-year-old immortal who has no inkling of what a sugar roll is.
I hold my breath, anticipation beading sweat on the nape of my neck as I watch the creature for any sign of malice, any sign of ill will… but none comes. His smirk only grows, and in a swift, graceful motion, he tosses my pastries into the open air. And then, before I can do so much as blink, there is another ripple, another rush of licorice and plum and shadow… And he is gone.
Lacy Baugher Milas is the Books Editor at Paste Magazine, but loves nerding out about all sorts of pop culture. You can find her on Twitter @LacyMB.