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The Falcons of fire and ice is the new historical fiction book by Karen Maitland, Karen Maitland has become popular due to her gritty medieval novels set in England which tend to cover be dark and with an element of superstition. Her first novel, a company of liars was one of my favourite books of 2011 and was followed by the equally brilliant Owl killers. I was less enamoured by the Gallow's curse as I thought it was too superstition driven rather than historical and the book didn't flow as well as the first two novels.
In this novel, we move away from England for the first time and move slightly forward in time and the story is set in Portugal and Iceland in the 16th century. The book tells the story of Isabella, the daughter of the king of Portugal's falconer, after her father is accused of killing one of the birds she is given a quest of finding two white falcons to replace the bird and save her father from being executed. Isabella has a year to accomplish this task, unfortunately the birds are found in Iceland and the religious order responsible for the falcons death have sent a rogue (Ricardo) to kill the girl as she travels from Portugal. On the island of Iceland, a mysterious woman who lives in a cave awaits the arrival of a special one to help her with a task, as the story progresses we get to know more about Isabella, Ricardo and Eydis. Each main chapter has a short paragraph concerning the training and use of falcons along with the terminology.
The book firmly places Isabella, Ricardo and Eydis as the heroes and the nefarious church as the villains, throughout the machinations of the Portuguese Catholic Church and the inquisition are the true villains of the tale. Isabella and Ricardo are young and attracted to each other, Ricardo despite being a rogue is in the gentlemen thief persona rather than a thug and Eydis is the complex one whose story is only slowly revealed. The real winner in this book is the island of Iceland, lovingly portrayed as wild and unkempt, all volcanoes, mountains and unrelenting scenery. We get an outsiders love for one of the most beautiful places on earth, we also get the falcons view on the world and how important these birds were to the Royal families of Europe at the time. Throw in some Catholic repression, a journey from Portugal to Iceland which has echoes of the Company of Liars including a delightfully annoying merchant's wife and some brilliant fight scenes.
This book has echoes of a company of liars without quite hitting those heights; it was an improvement on the overt mysticism and sometimes downright silliness of the Gallow's curse and the central characters were strong without touching on the ethereal. I enjoyed the novel, I certainly found out a lot more about the ways and means of falconry in the Middle Ages and it was nice to see a novel set in the middle ages in Portugal and Iceland most novels tend to the England, Spain, Italy etc. There was one section where the story suddenly all makes sense and there's a nice healthy twist with the reader genuinely surprised.
A very good effort, not her best but then her best is amongst the best but a lot better than some of the rubbish which is printed in the historical fiction category.