The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland

Having never read Karen Maitland’s preceding books, I can’t comment on the quality of her latest book for ardent fans, however, I will say that I’d like to read more of her work. The Falcons of Fire and Ice is set in 1539 during the time of the Inquisition and Maitland does incredibly well to set the scene and build the world around her characters. At first I was drawn in to the point of not wanting to put the book down. Sadly, that sensation wore off halfway through.

The book follows Isabella, Cruz and Eydis and each tells their own part of this supernatural story. We start by finding out that Isabella’s family are Marranos (Christianised Jews who fled to Portugal from Spain) and we see through her eyes what happens to Marranos as they are tortured and burned at the stake. When her father is arrested for the supposed murder of the King’s white Falcons, she is tasked with heading to Iceland to replace them before her father is killed by the Inquisition.

Cruz, a Portuguese conman finds himself dragged into Isabella’s journey as he is bribed to follow her and make sure she has an “accident” in Iceland, leaving the Jesuits to rule Portugal through an angry King.

The novel has great pace in the introduction of the characters and the build-up to the trip to Iceland. Maitland uses Cruz as an anchor for humour which lends light to the darker subjects that follow later. Up until the halfway point the book takes strides to be entertaining and funny while keeping an edge often found in a thriller, but as soon as the dark magic and supernatural appear everything becomes a little too outlandish and theatrical.

Once Eydis is introduced as a supernatural entity that lives within a volcano who is attempting to destroy a Dragur (Nightwalker) by leading Isabella to her, I started to switch off. Gone was the interesting characters and in walked more cookie cutter styles that could be seen in any number of mediums. Suddenly the reader is to believe that Isabella holds some sort of power inside her despite any hints beforehand. This was a story about a young woman heading to Iceland to capture two white Falcons, now she’s a Ghostbuster?!

I’m all for suspending reality, but moments here felt so far-fetched that I was often rolling my eyes and willing the story to return to the feeling of the opening third.

It’s still an entertaining novel but, the spark it opened with fizzles out and we’re left with cliché and unbelievable scenes. There are sparks of brilliance with each chapter opening with a story about hunting birds throughout history and facts about falconry before each chapter which reflect what is to come. Then there’s the tension and fear that Maitland can create which is, at times, fantastic.

I’m told that her previous novels are far better and am very interested in reading much more from her. It seems I perhaps started with one of her weaker novels. It was a fun ride but one I wouldn’t want to queue for again.

Published by Michael Joseph Ltd. This book was kindly supplied by the publisher for review.

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