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by Karen Maitland


Set in the sixteenth century amidst the horrors of religious persecution and `holy’ wars of all stamps, Karen Maitland’s tale traverses the Atlantic, from Portugal under the Inquisition, to Iceland under the heel of the Lutheran Danes.

It opens with a lot of unconnected storylines that eventually come together; a lot of characters too, many with names that I found difficult to remember. I did lose track a bit at first, but not too radically and as the individual threads begin to draw together, and the main purpose of the story – Isabella’s near-impossible quest to steal a pair of rare and legendary Gyrfalcon from an Icelandic mountain and save herself and her family from death at the hands of the inquisition – begins to coalesce, Falcons of Fire and Ice becomes a truly riveting read.

It’s a multi-faceted and lengthy tale. There’s a lot of historical detail mixed with a goodly dose of the supernatural, but it’s skilfully told and never confusing and I don’t know why it’s not more special than it is. Maybe there’s too great an emphasis on plot over setting and character. The supernatural element veers more to the horrific than the magical. It wasn’t perfect, but it was very good. It’s the first Karen Maitland I’ve read but I’ll certainly be reading more.

I particularly loved the ending. Nothing is neatly tied up, everything leaves you guessing. Will there be a sequel? Probably, but it really doesn’t matter if there isn’t.