Book review: The Falcons of Fire and Ice by Karen Maitland

Take some of the darkest deeds of the 16th century Inquisition, add a liberal sprinkling of powerful magic and mysticism and you have Karen Maitland’s electrifying historical thriller.

By Pam Norfolk
Thursday, 27th September 2012, 10:00 am

Renowned author of Company of Liars, The Owl Killers and The Gallows Curse, Maitland’s books pack an incredible visual and visceral punch. Authentic historical backgrounds frame chilling and disturbing tales full of blood-soaked action, dangerous intrigue, supernatural mysteries and a palpable sense of menace.

Add to this a credible assortment of original and vibrant characters, spine-tingling plotlines and a clever, compelling storytelling technique, and the stage is set for some truly gripping tales of the unexpected.

The Falcons of Fire and Ice takes us to Lisbon in 1539 where the Inquisition is in full force. Fanatical clerics display their power and ruthlessly spread fear by burning and torturing heretics. Any who oppose the Church soon learn that silence is preferable to a slow and agonising death.

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Spies are everywhere and no one is safe, not even Isabela, 16-year-old daughter of the Falconer at the Royal Court, who was born into old Catholic stock. Because Isabela, a girl who attracts danger by ‘always wearing her feelings on her face,’ is about to be caught in the Church’s terrifying schemes.

The slaughter of two of the boy King Sebastian’s precious white falcons sees her father arrested on false charges and imprisoned. As punishment, he and his family will be killed unless the birds are replaced.

Isabela, young and headstrong, decides that only she can save her father and she strikes what seems to be an impossible bargain with the court Inquisitors. She must travel to Iceland and bring back two of the rare falcons within one year or her father will be executed.

Meanwhile in Iceland, a menacing stranger has possessed the soul of a woman chained up in a volcanic cave and is threatening to destroy the community. The woman’s twin sister is desperate to intervene but vivid dreams suggest their only salvation lies with a young girl from afar, travelling in search of white feathers.

Isabela’s quest would seem to hold a more crucial purpose than she could ever have imagined. But first she must travel into a dark and dangerous world filled with people motivated by fearful beliefs and, to make matters worse, the Church has sent a companion to ensure she never returns...

Each of Maitland’s books offers a new and unique adventure, a journey into the past where the paranormal drives events in a society already filled with fear and superstition.

The Falcons of Fire and Ice is an intelligent and compelling story, bristling with evil and offering up a vision of the Middle Ages that is both unsettling and unforgettable.

(Michael Joseph, paperback, £12.99)