Falcons of Fire and Ice – Karen Maitland
Karen Maitland’s fourth book is a divergence from historical England to give us a perspective of Lisbon and Iceland in the 16th century. May 23, 1536, marks the day that the Inquisition was formally introduced into Portugal and was intended to root out heresy within the Church. It was not by definition directed specifically at Jews, but in countries where Jews had converted to Christianity in large numbers, it did largely focus on those who were suspected of continuing to practice Judaism in secret. Isabelle’s family and friends have Jewish sympathies and connections, and while not necessarily practising are aware that people have been executed for less. Her father is the King’s Falconer and he has a closer than expected interaction with the King, not to everyone’s approval.
Karen’s ability to create an atmosphere and landscape in historical times is amazing and how she carefully creates a character from these elements, is fabulous. The threats and fear during this horrific period are very well captured, with spies and rumour-mongering aplenty.
The main storyline focuses on a mission to capture 2 rare white falcons after the King’s Falcons are killed. Isabela is tasked with this assignment under threat that her father will be executed if she doesn’t replace the dead ones. The rare White Falcons are found in Iceland, a country that is following the Protestant faith and unfriendly towards Catholic regions. In addition, the Church has sent along a companion that must ensure she does not return, but who is he among the group of people that are travelling with her, as they become embroiled in this pacey adventure.
There is always a sense of threat in these stories and Karen makes them so vivid that it generates a suspense and allurement in the story that is totally engrossing. The landscape of Iceland is very well portrayed in the novel and the dark and dreary conditions add to the foreboding, menacing feeling.
If you love mystery, suspense and adventure, in a medieval setting, there is none better than Karen Maitland to deliver. Highly recommended.