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on 14 May 2017
I bought the book after attending a talk by Karen Maitland, which I found very interesting, but sorry the book was not for me, too much jumping about. Will give another title a go just to see ( I do like historical tales )
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on 13 April 2017
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on 1 July 2017
Absolutely loved it, heart and mind. My imagination is still full of boiling springs, geysers, mudslips and relentless suspense. It’s not just the volcano which is building up to explosion. The real landscape of Iceland brings grandeur and a sense of gathering doom that matches this story of persecution, a girl’s courage, and the dark forces which are at work.

One of the cave scenes was almost too horrific for me (I get nightmares sometimes) but I was so gripped by the book that I let my mind skim that part and I am so glad I did. What is so horrible about the way the prophetic sisters look? My mind created monsters worse than the reality and that is part of Karen Maitland’s gift. She involves the reader and her insinuations worm their way into your mind, worrying away beneath the surface so that you can’t put the book down until you know the truth. Which of the men on the boat with Isabella has been sent to murder her? All these mysteries draw you into the story.

The history is fascinating and a masterclass in authentic historical background that is never intrusive. **Disclosure** I am fascinated by the falcons and their history so enjoyed the chapter openings, with snippets of medieval falconry and stories. If you want to skip these more informative bits, you could. The auto da fé must be the lowest point in Christian history and its suffocating pressure in Portugal to betray your neighbours before they betray you sets the tone from the start of the novel. Ironically, the persecution is reversed in Iceland, where Catholics are forbidden. This makes its own point as to the lunacy of religious persecution.

I love the reluctant assassin, an unreliable narrator, who lies to himself never mind everybody else, and yet is so charming. The ending is perfect and I am still writing the story in my unruly imagination. Truly great writing.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Having loved all of Karen Maitland's previous books Company of Liars, The Owl Killers and The Gallows Curse, I was delighted to read her latest offering. "The Falcons of Fire and Ice" is set in Portugal, 1539, when the country is in the icy grip of the Inquisition. Isabela is the daughter of the Royal Falconer and King Sebastian loves both falcons and the company of the gentle man who tends them; but when tragedy strikes the King is able to do little to protect him, as he is just a child and his great-uncle is both Regent and the former Grand Inquisitor. When Isabela's father is arrested on false charges her only chance of obtaining his release is to bring back two extremely rare white falcons from Iceland within a year and a day.

Isabela is a brave and resourceful young girl who immediately sets out on a quest that seems almost impossible, despite her life being turned upside down. As well as the quest itself, there are those who wish to see her fail and others who intend to make sure that she does not complete the task. Isabela's fate is entwined with Ricardo, a likeable adventurer, and a mysterious woman chained in a cave whose sister has been possessed. Like Karen Maitland's previous novels, this contains more than a hint of magic and the supernatural. She manages to portray both the fear of the Inquisition at that time, when persecution, informers and fear of arrest overshadowed the country and the untamed beauty of Iceland, with menacing, volcanic mountains and marshy land ready to pull you into the depths. The two countries seem outwardly very different, yet both contain religious intolerance and superstitions, as well as a dread of those who are different.

In some ways, Falcons reminded me most of "Company of Liars" as Isabela travels with companions, unsure of which are her enemies and suspicious of everyone. It has the same sense of dark menace and tension, excellent characters and wonderful, evocative locations. I am sure all fans of Karen Maitland's books will love this as much as I did. This is brilliant historical fiction, with a twist of magic that gives it the authors own particular flavour. A real winner and highly recommended.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
This is the first Karen Maitland book I've read and although I prefer my historical fiction without quite as much of a supernatural/fantasy twist, this was nevertheless an original and engaging read. It's the story of a journey, a quest, made by Isabela, to travel from 16th century Portugal to Iceland to acquire a pair of falcons for the King and in doing so, save her father's life. That a young girl would be able to make such a journey is all rather unlikely, but if you are willing to suspend your disbelief, you will arrive in Iceland, the descriptions of which are probably the high point of this novel. The contorted plot has lots of twists and turns and the story is complicated by the fact that it is told in three first person narrative voices, so you do need to keep your wits about you. It felt a bit long to me, but this is probably because I prefer my historical novels to aspire more towards realism, but nevertheless, if you are looking for something a bit different, and you've an interest in the activities of the Inquisition, then this one might be worth a look.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
1594. In both Portugal and Iceland much cause for concern. In Portugal the Inquisition forever tightens its grip - fear and suspicion rampant, public tortures and executions commonplace. Isabela's kindly father is imprisoned on a trumped-up charge, his freedom depending on her securing from Iceland two white falcons for King Sebastian. Pleasure-loving conman Ricardo is blackmailed into ensuring she does not succeed. Meanwhile in Iceland, Lutheran Danes terrorize peasants and a fierce winter grasps....

Key to what follows is the deep mountain cave where twin oracles Eydis and Valdis have lived since they were seven - food provided by local folk in return for advice. Their world may be tiny, but they can detect subtle signs when catastrophe fast looms - as indeed it does now.

Isabela, Ricardo and Eydis in turns narrate. Imminent is a momentous struggle between good and evil. Even the dead have a vital part to play, as waters bubble and steam and the whole mountain seems about to erupt.

One thing is for sure: the reader ends up knowing far more about falcons than before. Humour is necessarily in short supply (limited to that ghastly Dona Flavia on the voyage and Ricardo's lasting horror at having to rough it). Otherwise it is powerful fare, all concerned destined to suffer. I have not read the writer's other novels but can declare this one mystical and disturbing, events in that cave frequently the stuff of nightmares.

Not an easy read, but well worth the effort.
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Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
Karen Maitland`s latest novel, `Falcons of Fire and Ice' is set in the mid 16th century and tells the story of a young Portuguese girl, Isabela, whose father is falsely imprisoned by the Inquisition , accused of murdering the King's precious white falcons. Isabela is tasked with travelling to a far-off mysterious land (Iceland) to bring back another pair of falcons for the King, and she has just a year in which to do it - or her father will be executed.

I have to admit that if I hadn't already read and loved Maitland's last three novels, that synopsis might have led me to give this one a wide berth as, whilst I love historical fiction, I have a tricky relationship with fantasy and fairy tales (eg adored The Snow Child but couldn't finish The Night Circus) and I thought this one sounded a bit too magical and mystical for my tastes, but thankfully I was wrong.

For me the book's charm lay in its engaging characters and atmospheric locations. Isabela is a feisty, determined heroine (as Maitland's tend to be). Her journey to and across Iceland is tempestuous and fraught with danger - not least at the hands of two of her travelling companions who have their own nefarious reasons for not wanting her mission to succeed. One of them, Ricardo, is a charmer and a chancer with duplicitous intentions, but despite my better judgment I found him a very likeable character who provided a welcome shot of humour and reality when things were getting a wee bit too mystical for me. However, I think my favourite character and the one I found most intriguing was Eydis, a middle-aged Icelandic woman who comes to play a crucial role in Isabela's quest, despite having been chained up in a cave with her twin sister Valdis since they were seven years old due to the islanders' fear of their healing powers and gift of second sight.

The story is told from the points of view of Isabela, Ricardo and Eydis but as their tales unfold it becomes clear that the real `star' of the book is Iceland itself, with its brooding climate, volcanic ash clouds and boiling hot geysers liable to erupt at any moment. Karen Maitland says she fell "hopelessly in love" with the country the first time she went there and I've always thought it would be a fascinating place to visit - even more so now.

Falcons has received fairly mixed reviews so far. Personally it's not my favourite Maitland novel (that would be The Owl Killers) but I still really enjoyed it and found it quite an emotional read, with the usual snippets of fascinating historical detail that KM's fans have come to know and love. I think I would have preferred a more conclusive ending (can't go into too much detail obviously), though I did wonder whether Maitland had deliberately left it wide open with a view to writing a sequel? Let's hope so.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 1 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I haven't read Karen Maitland before but had heard good things about her: sadly this book was a disappointing read for me - a kind of adventure-romp through the sixteenth century with a leavening of the supernatural for good measure.

The plot strand built around the Portuguese Isabela suffers from so many of the faults of modern books set in a historical period: Isabela is able to do things that no well-brought-up Portuguese Catholic young woman would ever be able to do in the mid-sixteenth century (in this case voyage to Iceland to search for a pair of rare gyrfalcons while fighting off the attentions of the Inquisition). She also has the consciousness of a modern woman: for example, she is, of course, horrified at the burning of heretics and remains a lone voice amongst the crowd baying for blood and gore.

The Iceland story is handled far better and I liked the dark story of Eydis and, especially, the interweaving of Norse, Icelandic and other northern mythologies which give this part of the tale a resonance and form which is missing elsewhere in the book.

Maitland writes well but the book overall feels unpaced and out of balance to me, as if it is still at an unformed draft stage and needs to be shaped and framed more decisively.

So definitely not a bad book but a rather formless and perhaps overlong one for the story that is told - only a hesitant recommendation from me, I'm afraid.
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VINE VOICEon 21 September 2012
Format: Hardcover|Vine Customer Review of Free Product( What's this? )
I've not read any of Karen Maitland's other work but enjoy books on this turbulent period in European. This dark tale that basically begins with a gruesome burning at the hands of the Inquisition gives a graphic sense of the religious turbulence and violence that afflicted Europe at this time. Additionally by moving the narrative to Iceland you get a different facet of the conflict, that was previously unknown to me. The story is compelling, characters are well-drawn in all their frailties and there are some genuine shocks along the way, particularly when they all meet! The afterword is great at rooting the mystical aspects of the tale in reality. Most enjoyable and ripe for a sequel!
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on 31 December 2013
This is the first one of her books that I didn't read within days of picking up - in fact I read the first 2 chapters, forgot about it, read 3 other books, then came back to it, and my boyfriend has done the same!
That being said, I'm glad I did, I recommend you stick with it, as the pace picks up and her usual blend of fact, the supernatural, and complicated and compelling relationships emerges. I do not know very much about the time period and place in history, so there was no room for me to get annoyed about any historical and supernatural overlaps!
Would always recommend Company of Liars and Owl killers over this, but if you're a fan of hers don't miss it.
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