I literally counted the days until the release of Hawk Quest. A favourite author of mine, Ben Kane, proclaimed the book `bloody brilliant' and his was not the only voice urging me to grab hold of what will undoubtedly be remembered as one of the best novels of 2012 - not just as a work of historical fiction but as a masterful piece of storytelling. It's a weighty tome and I did resist the handy kindle version, opting instead for the entirely non-handy but rather lovely hardback. At almost 700 pages, and they're pages packed densely, your back and shoulder won't thank you as you struggle to carry it around but your aches and pains will be rewarded.
Hawk Quest transports the reader back to England during the 1070s, a time when Normans were stamping their control on their new kingdom. This was a time of cruel justice, stone walls, hunting, starvation and even, as shown here, cannibalism. The novel begins close to the wall left by the Romans, a reminder that this is not the first time that the English have been conquered. Vallon, a Frankish knight, and Hero, a young Sicilian scholar, have a mission. A Norman knight, Walter, has been captured in Anatolia by Seljuk Turks. His ransom is high - four gyrfalcons. Perfectly white, these falcons are found in Iceland and Greenland and traded in Norway. To find them is dangerous but there is something about Walter that makes the risk worthwhile.
With the ransom demand delivered to Walter's family in England, Vallon, Hero, rough German soldier Raul, the English falconer and serf Wayland with his large and silent dog, set off for the north to find the birds, pursued by Walter's jealous brother Drogo and his men. Their quest will take them to the extreme north and west of the known world. They will meet the victims and winners of this violent time - Danes, Vikings, Normans and English, all misplaced and on the move. They will rescue women and fall in love and they will risk their lives, scaling cliffs for falcons, fighting wild beasts, battling slavers, encountering barbarity and true courage, Lap hunters, devious merchants and rulers and they will travel from the north to Russia and Anatolia. Throughout, they tell stories and we learn of the past lives of our heroes and realise the significance of their quest.
Robert Lyndon took a decade to write Hawk Quest and the result is worthy of the effort - it's an ambitious, delicious feast of a novel. Adventure follows adventure and each is as well written, brilliantly imagined and as exciting as the one before and the one that follows. The pace never relents and the quest never diminishes. This is partly because the characters who drive the story on are never static. They change as they travel and as we learn about them it very much feels as if we are on the journey with them. Vallon, Hero, Wayland and the girl Syth are all complex and always interesting and we reap the benefits from their interaction with a cast of fascinating, always well-rounded characters who cross their paths by sea and by land throughout the novel. And then there's the dog...
Hawk Quest is a debut novel. It's difficult to imagine how it could have been improved upon. It certainly succeeds in transporting us back almost 1000 years to a time when the unimaginable could lie just around the corner. I just hope we don't have to wait another ten years for the next Lyndon novel.
on 1 January 2012
This is not just good ,it is very good,all 658 pages and the fact that this is the first outing for Robert Lyndon it begs the question, were has he been all this time.I have not read a first novel as good as this since Giles Kristian Raven series,and like Raven it is a page turner, that even at 658 pages it still leaves you wanting more.Robert Lyndon has that talent that quickly has you standing shoulder to shoulder with our motley crew as they embark on their epic adventure and by the end you fill you have sail and walked every step of the way.I hope it will not be long before we have more from Robert Lynden,and perhaps it will be more of Vallon and Hero
Having been told by Ben Kane how amazing this book is had no trouble parting with the cash for it, i wish he had mentioned its a blooming big book (my thumbs ache) 672 pages which is worth £7.79 of any-ones money for pure value for money, but as per the cover quote and his review on there, this book is stunningly well written and yet not overly written, the characters do come alive on the pages, he is a writer who is a natural story teller. There are many writers out there today who write fantastically , but not many that are natural born storytellers: Conn Iggulden, Christian Cameron, Bernard Cornwell, these are masters of this genre and its no small thing to thrust a new author straight into these ranks, but also in this case it's well deserved, another name i would add to this vaunted list of authors is David Gemmell, why? because the characters and at times the story reminded me of the flawed hero approach that that great man always wrote (he was also another natural story teller).
I have been very open about the fact that i think Christian Cameron's God of War will be the book of the year 2012, but damn me if this isn't a close second.
Very very highly recommended.
A huge, exciting historical adventure epic in the bestselling tradition of Bernard Cornwell, Conn Iggulden and Robyn Young
HAWK QUEST Robert Lyndon 2012 1st edn. Hardcover Edition.
The pre-publication notices by other authors and professional reviewers for this book were full of praise and put it firmly beside the works of Conn Iggulden, Christian Cameron, Bernard Cornwell and the like. Yes, it is good, certainly for a debut novel but in my personal opinion lacks that special something that really makes it stand out from other books of the genre.
The story is well told and encompases a novel twist which revolves around the known practice of hawks being used as currency, not just for the payment of ransoms, in the middle ages in the same way that a good hound or horse would be traded for high values or as payment of a debt. Otherwise this is a story about a disparate group of adventurers who cross the known world in order to fulfil their mission to obtain the randsom and free the captive nobleman.
This is an easy read which cracks along at a good pace, although it did get a little jerky in a couple of places and one or two of the historical details were a bit dubious but that is common enough in any work of fiction and very forgivable. My main critism is that once again the heroes of this novel are integrated into every major event happening at the time across Europe and Asia Minor, which makes the storyline a bit unbelievable at times, the reader has the feeling of being on a whistle stop trip through the known medieval world with the author trying to cram too much into one volume. Never-the-less this was a good exciting read full of action and thrills with slowly but well developed characters and well described locations and events but for me the overall impression was that the whole composition was a little shallow and seriously lacked any feeling of the cultural differences of the characters and the lands through which they passed.
I have now revisited this book again since reading it last year , I enjoyed it both times but I am still not sure that I would rate it a full five stars.
on 4 January 2012
It is very rare that a debut book causes such a stir before it is even released but Hawk Quest was one of them. When writers as good as Ben Kane and Anthony Riches are extolling the virtues of this book, you know you're in for a real treat.
This is an epic story, covering most of Northern Europe and into the Mediterranean. The descriptions of the various countries are amazing, he describes in stunning detail the ravages of war on the English countryside, the bleakness and harshness of Iceland, the barren and dangerous coast of Greenland and then tough journey to Russia and finally to the heat of Anatolia. He introduces arrogant Norman nobles, downtrodden English peasants, Vicious Vikings, tough and hardy Icelanders, ruthless Lap hunters, Russian Princes and finally the Muslim Seljuks who hold Sir Walter captive.
I have rarely enjoyed a debut novel so much, it is such an ambitious story for the first novel but Robert Lyndon has pulled it off. I can not reccomend this book enough. A true page turner!
on 29 December 2011
Quite simply, Hawk Quest is the best book I've read this year (I was lucky enough to read it before the pub. date); and that's saying something in a 12 month period when I've read more novels than I have done in an age. Let me add that I've been really impressed with some of the books I've read in this time, indeed I've really loved some of them. Yet somehow Hawk Quest eclipses them all.
To be frank, this is one of the best books I've read I don't know how long. It's beautifully written, deeply evocative, and oozing with rich detail of the period. Do not worry that this is a dry tome, however - far from it. Lyndon sucks the reader into his world, and his lyrical narrative makes the pages turn by themselves. His disparate group of characters: the brooding but deadly warrior Vallon, the idealistic and naive Hero, the earthy but brutal soldier Raul and the haunted, wraith-like Wayland combine to make a wonderful group of heroes whose travails never seem to end. I loved this book. It is bloody brilliant! I wish I'd written it.
Ben Kane, author of Spartacus: The Gladiator.
on 5 September 2012
Hawk Quest was quite an adventure. The longer it went on the less believeable it became...but it is well written and fun. That said, the last few pages are very odd...the author launches into what feels like a "sermon" about the Gospel of Thomas and what seems to be his own personal views about Christianity. This section of the book doesn't seem to fit at all with the story and makes for a very odd ending.
Hawk Quest is a first novel, and a rather good one. Contrary to what its subtitle seems to suggest, it is not really "an epic novel of the Norman conquests". Only the first part of it takes place in AD 1072, in Northern England close to the Scottish border. This is where Vallon, a Frankish warrior, and Hero, a Byzantine from Southern Italy, have travelled to deliver the demand for ransom for Walter, a Norman knight who left to fight for the Emperor and was captured at the battle of Mantzikert.
The ransom is an extravagant amount that Walter's family cannot afford to pay, but there is an alternative that the Turkish Emir has provided: to capture and bring back to Anatolia from the far north (Greenland) four white, very rare and priceless gyrfalcons. The book's title itself is not quite accurate either. Only the second part of the book, which takes place in Iceland and Greenland, is about the "Hawk Quest" itself. The rest of it tells the story of the incredible travel as the expedition gets blown of course North of Norway, goes across Russia, taking the Varangian road and finally crosses the Black Sea to reach Anatolia and the Turks.
To come up with this book, the author seems to have borrowed themes from several other novels. The Norman knight held for ransom reminded me of one of Alfred Duggan's old novels (the Lady for ransom). This was based on the true story of Roussel de Bailleul, a Norman mercenary captain who did take part in the Mantzikert campaign but was only captured by the Turks a couple of years later, and it was his wife who managed to gather and pay his ransom. Another source of inspiration may have been Robert Low's Oathsworn series and Orm's travels across Russia to the Byzantine Empire, although Low's story is about Vikings. However, it takes place about a hundred of years prior to this book.
As I discovered, Robert Lyndon mixed up various bits and pieces and characters ranging from a Frank and German and some Normans to Icelandic, Vikings, Russ, not to forget a few Byzantines and, of course, the Turks newly arrived in Anatolia which they are starting to conquer. I was initially a bit wary of such a mix, although it did work out rather well. Also, the author did obviously document himself rather well, with the main hero, Vallon, being a knight from Aquitaine who fought against the Moors in Spain, as a number of Frankish and Norman knights did during the 11th century. The book is also rather fast paced, with the expedition running into all sorts of adventures, storms, attacks and so one during their long trek of almost a year. I will not, of course, tell the whole story, although I clearly enjoyed reading this rather thick book (some 750 pages in paperback) over the New Year.
One of the book's main originalities is the taming and training of the white falcons - the author happens to have been a falconer since childhood. The descriptions of the white falcon's flights and hunts were particularly well down and enjoyable. I was surprised about the mixture of power and fragility that these birds of prey combine. I was also fascinated by the difficulties that the falconer has in capturing and training them. One point that was particularly well shown was the fine art that the Muslims (the Persians, then the Arabs and here the Turks) had reached in training and looking after falcons. This was one of the many areas where the East was well in advance when compared to Western Europe, at the time.
For those who happen to be, like me, a bit fussy with the historical background of historical fiction, there were however quite a few glitches spread across the book. For instance, while Vallon could have come across Rodrigo de Bivar (El Cid) who would have been about 20 during the siege of Barbastro in 1063, it is however unlikely that Walter would have been captured and held for ransom at Mantzikert by the Turks. This is because the Norman mercenary regiments, with other contingents, were sent away on a separate expedition under the command of Roussel de Bailleul and therefore did not take part in the battle. Besides, all of the Byzantine prisoners were freed without ransom together with the Emperor Romanus IV Diogenes, once he had accepted the (rather lenient) conditions of the Seljuk Sultan. Another glitch, this time an anachronism, is when the Turkish Emir Suleiman (a historic character) believes that the Christians will launch a Crusade to avenge the defeat of the Byzantines and reconquer the lost territory. While there was an aborted expedition in 1074 organized by the pope and directed first against the Normans of Italy and then intended to help Byzantium, it is very, very unlikely that the Turkish Prince would ever have heard of it and, of course, he simply could not guess at what would happen more than twenty years later with the First Crusade.
So while the book is entertaining and fast-paced, and full of adventures and well-written, you will, here and there, come across a few glitches. They are, however, no more than that, so that this first effort fully deserves four stars in my view.
on 2 December 2012
This book is truly an epic saga involving a wide range of characters from different parts of the 10th century world (such as English, Norwegian, Frank, Greek, Russian, Icelandic and Norman) who become entangled in a quest that is as lengthily, dangerous and I dare say as honourable in equal proportion to that fulfilled by the characters in Lord of the Rings. The only difference being that there is no fantasy involved, just brutal, honest, 10th century historical experiences. The quest itself involves the catpure of 4 Gyrfalcons who happen to live in Iceland and Greenland but then their destination is in the far eastern lands of the Black Sea as a ransom for a captured Norman Knight. So the group of unlikely heroes, in their pursuit of the Gyrfalcons, travel across foriegn lands and seas which is what makes the story so epic as they cover an awful lot of the 10th century world. The journey is long and dangerous, alliances are made, enemies abound at every turn, battles are fought, sacrafices are made, love is even found in the unlikeliest of places. All the characters harbour secrets, hidden agendas, dream of divine redemption or harbour a lust to avenge a tainted honour. All this and more is experienced through the lives of so many, on a journey that takes more than year in the storyline. Each chapter is full of tension, adventure, thrills and wonder. It will have the reader reeling from the epic experience and as breathless with relief and perhaps even sadness when they reach the final page.
The only flaw in this whole tale is the subtitle of the book referring to the Norman Conquest. Which itself is only lightly involved in the form of three Norman brothers entwined in the large plot. And with the story exploring so many countries and seas it doesn't involve in anyway the Norman Conquest for England in 1066. The total story happens several years afterwards. But it is still a very worthwhile read and is greatly recommended for fans of historical fiction of this period.
on 22 April 2012
For a debut novel, Hawk Quest was certainly ambitious. Indeed one wondered before beginning if this new author had bitten off more than he could chew with a book of this size and scope. Yet the book had none of that clunky awkwardness sometimes associated with a debut novel. Indeed Hawk Quest was well rounded, highly accomplished and kept me coming back for more night after night.
Hawk Quest is ideal for those with a deeply ingrained sense of wanderlust and adventure. The concept is relatively simple; a band of travellers is assembled in an attempt to free a captive Norman knight held by the Seljuks by delivering a ransom of four white gyrfalcons. Yet in order to do this, the group must travel across the majority of the known world enduring terrible hardships, loss and perils along the way.
The book reminded me of the classic Viking adventure story `The Longships' in the sense that the narrative was richly descriptive and carefully layered. Slow to build but completely satisfying, this book was a real literary treat. As the last page came ever closer, I truly lamented the end and loss of such a great story, yet I was comforted in the thought that this was a debut novel and hopefully one of many more to come.
This is an adventure story in a league of its own, involving many memorable characters, unique tales, panoramas and vivid descriptions of wildlife. It is a tale of love, loss, treachery, rivalry, sacrifice and endurance. The page count will fly by at a rapid rate and you will hardly notice. If you are looking for a hardy, lengthy book that will inspire and marvel, then Hawk Quest must be read.