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5.0 out of 5 starsThanks for such a powerful book written by a powerful writer
Reviewed in the United States on November 13, 2017
I have adored all the books of Karen Maitland and I have read all of them except for "The plague Charmer" that I am keeping for a later time. Of all writers Karen Maitland has an extraordinary medieval culture and...she is able to write about different times and different countries. I usually give my books to share what I have loved with others, but I have kept all the K Maitland books to reread them. I am glad that such writers exist in my life to allow me to evolve in other times and cultures.Thank you Karen!
Reviewed in the United States on February 25, 2015
I really liked this book. I had this writer recommended to me by a lady in a book store as I like medieval mysteries. I only gave it 4 stars as I found it confusing figuring out what was going on in the first pages. It would have helped if I had seen the cast of characters early on. I liked the ending, the connection to the inquisition and I liked that I wasn't able to second guess the ending.
I thought this download on my ipad would be fun, but it is pretty boring. Falcons? The characters do not engender any sympathy from me. And, I am tired to death of the 'girl with no abilities who can suddenly do magical things'. This plot has been done to death and is not interesting to me anymore. Historical fiction is not that fun anyway, but this Icelandic soap opera leaves me cold.
5.0 out of 5 starsHeart-thumping - historical suspense at its best
Reviewed in the United States on July 1, 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.
5.0 out of 5 starsBrilliant medieval story full of suspense and threats
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on September 9, 2018
Karen Maitland's fourth book is a divergence from historical England to give us a perspective of Lisbon and Iceland in the 16th century. Karen's ability to create an atmosphere and landscape in historical times is amazing and how she almost makes a character of these elements is fabulous.
The main storyline focuses on a mission to capture 2 rare white falcons after the King's Falcons are killed. Isabela is tasked with this assignment under threat that her father will be killed if she doesn't replace the dead ones. The rare Falcons are found in Iceland, a country that is unfriendly towards the Catholic region she comes from and this during a time of the inquisition. In addition, the Church has sent along a companion that must ensure she does not return, but who is he among the group of people that are travelling with her and will become embroiled in this pacey adventure.
There is always a sense of threat in these stories and Karen makes them so vivid that it generates a suspense and captivation in the story that is totally engrossing. The landscape of Iceland is very well portrayed in the novel and the dark and dreary conditions add to the foreboding feeling.
If you love mystery, suspense and drama in a medieval setting, there is none better than Karen Maitland to deliver. Highly recommended.
This was the fourth Karen Maitland novel I have ready and just finished it yesterday, now started the next one. I find her style of writing intriguing, the narrative often told from five or six characters perspective, then brought together in a thrilling ending. Enjoyed this every bit as the others, this one is set in Portugal and Iceland, and like the others I’ve ready is a thought provoking blend of Christian and Pagan faiths (and with this one also Judaism), often clashing, often misunderstood, but always a terrific read. Extremely well researched, and all historical asides bring enlightenment and a welcome addition. Would highly recommend this to anyone and everyone.
Having read two excellent historical novels by Karen Mailtland I was intrigued by this offering which tries to match the historical novel with magical realism - or so it seems to me. I enjoyed the historical parts and, to some extent the magical realism but felt that the latter was much less successful. Despite the face that one could see where it was meant to fit I still ended up with the impression that it had been dropped into a story that might well have functioned as well, if not better without it. The conjoined twins story would have worked at least as well with a healthy does of skepticism about their supernatural abilities. Overall I do not think it spoiled the novel as such but that, in the end, it was a distraction to the key narrative and the key issues, the latter being essentially romantic. I assume that the author was trying to achieve a different view of the historical novel and that is fair enough. I merely think that the experiment met with only limited success. There is plenty about superstition and )the fear of) magic in her more traditionally structured historical novels. I think that a really successful use of magical realism e.g. Louis de Bernier's South American novels uses the magical realism much more centrally within the narratives. In this novel it is, if not peripheral, then somewhat tangential. For all that I do not think the novel is a failure and I enjoyed much of it. Who knows, in the future, she may find the sort of blend that fuses the historical and the magical more successfully and I think no one who is really interested in novels objects to experimentation and to seeing writers develop even if things do not always work out as we or they might have wished.
3.0 out of 5 starsShan't bother with any more Maitland.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on March 23, 2016
Phew. I got through it. I managed to keep on reading right to the end, though I must admit I skim-read dozens of pages. There is an incredible amount of detail here, not all of which is needed (I get it - she's worried about her father in prison; I don't need to be reminded 10 times). Some firm editing needed, therefore. Isabela is a fine, strong character, though I thought Eydis was more rounded, and a far more interesting and sympathetic character. The men accompanying Isabela on her journey are not well-drawn and are pretty much indistinguishable (more than one of them has sharp, piercing eyes) - so much so that it was only when one was killed that I realised Ricardo (one of the narrators) was someone else. It was confusing, yes, but I wasn't that bothered. And that, I suppose, is why I skimmed a lot of it. I could have done with more of the fantasy/magic/legend themes and less of the bickering.
It is, all in all, just about ok. I've read almost all her earlier novels, and have enjoyed them less and less. This one just didn't grab me enough to give another one a try.
Reviewed in the United Kingdom on December 2, 2012
Karen Maitland has quickly become my favourite historical novelist. I have now read all of her books and this latest offering was certainly no disappointment. The story takes us on a sea voyage from Portuagal to Iceland and follows the adventures of a young girl determined to save her father from the Inquisition.
To do so she has to capture two white falcons for the juvenile king-in-waiting back in her home country. A tough task made harder by the fact her fellow passengers include men determined to kill her. But, of course, the story is far more complex than that! In the course of this tale we meet witches and demons and are taken into a world riddled with superstition and magic.
Sadly, as in real life, it is mortal men who are capable of the worst evil. The scenes of torture and execution are graphic and the reader shares the feelings of fear and helplessness of the victims of the bigots who, whilst holding high office in the Christian church, go feverishly about their task of murdering anybody who dares express a belief that differs from their own.
But, that said, this is not a sad book nor a moral judgement. There is humour and there is hope and the players in the drama display a variety of vices and virtues.
As always with her books the characters Karen has created for us in this story are real, ordinary people. They are not heroic figures, they do not possess film star features and they are capable of being hurt, killed and defeated by opposing forces.
The story keeps you on the edge of your seat and follows a far from predictable course. Karen has yet to acquire (and hopefully never will) the habit, sadly commonplace among so many successful authors these days, of constantly repeating a tried and tested format.