Blair's Reviews > The Falcons of Fire and Ice

The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland
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's review
Mar 09, 2012

liked it
bookshelves: historical, read-abroad, 2012-release, other-review-copy
Read from April 03 to 04, 2012

I saw a copy of this in a bookshop a couple of days ago, so I presume it's safe to post my review of it here at last, although I read an advance copy back in April! Being the fool that I am, I never got round to writing a review of it at the time, which means I am now left with only vague recollections of what it was actually about and what I particularly liked/disliked. My notes from then (I was on holiday) have this to contribute:

Very good but not up to the standard of the last book. Just as exciting and compelling as her previous novels but I didn't find the protagonists, Isabela and Ricardo, anywhere near as likeable and easy to relate to as Elena and Raffaelle from The Gallows Curse. I also found that the desolate settings (of Iceland in particular) sucked some of the interest out of the premise. It was still a great adventure but didn't grab me in the same way as the others for some reason I can't quite put my finger on.

The Falcons of Fire and Ice moves away from the author's traditional setting of medieval England, and instead is split between Portugal and Iceland. As usual, there's a big, diverse cast of characters, although the focus is mainly on Isabela, the daughter of Portugal's Royal Falconer, who must travel to Iceland to retrieve two rare falcons; Ricardo, a mischievous adventurer who never seems to be telling the truth; and Eydis, an oracle who has spent her whole life chained up inside a cave, and whose twin sister, Valdis (also imprisoned in the cave) may have been possessed by an evil spirit. Each of the three main characters gets their own first-person narrative, with the chapters split between them.

I've been a fan of Karen Maitland for a couple of years now, and I absolutely LOVED her last book, The Gallows Curse, which in my opinion was (and is) her best so far. As a result, I had exceptionally high expectations for this one, so I suppose it's not entirely surprising that, although I really liked it, I ended up feeling a little disappointed. Maitland's skill for really bringing her settings to life is sometimes a disadvantage here as the circumstances and backdrops all seem so depressing. As far as the characters went, I liked Isabela but didn't feel a strong connection with her, and I didn't particularly like or trust Ricardo throughout the book. There's a twist regarding his character right at the very end, but because I'd already developed a negative attitude towards him, this didn't really surprise or shock me. I'd also guessed the sisters' secret well before it was revealed. This isn't to say that these twists aren't executed well and exciting to read, they're just not very hard to figure out if you're concentrating on the story.

When a fairly prolific author writes a book you absolutely adore, the risk is that nothing they produce afterwards will ever quite live up to it, even if you still love everything they do. This happened to me with F.G. Cottam and Dark Echo, and it looks like The Gallows Curse might be the Maitland equivalent. The main thing wrong with The Falcons of Fire and Ice was simply the fact that it wasn't The Gallows Curse. I enjoyed it a lot and it made for a great, absorbing holiday read, but the characters didn't leave much of an impression on me at all. Writing this review some months after reading the book has given me a different perspective on it, and I'm finding that my main memories are a) a vivid impression of the bleak Icelandic landscape and b) the fact that I didn't like Ricardo! I'd say it's on a par with her earlier novels rather than displaying the progression I expected: recommended, but not the author's best.
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Sooo not reading this yet.

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