The Falconer, by Elizabeth May

Title:The Falconer (The Falconer #1)
AuthorElizabeth May
PublisherGollancz
Publication date: 28th September 2013 (UK)
Rating:

5-star copyThe Falconer, by Elizabeth May, is probably my second or third favourite book of the whole year. It’s difficult enough to force my whirling fanboying thoughts into one cohesive vein in order to review the book, rather than talking myself in circles about just how perfect this book was. Yep, I said perfect. Some people don’t like to throw it around so casually, but I’m not one of them. As much as I am easily pleased by fantasy, I have very specific tastes that I tend to stick with most of the time, explaining why I don’t often happen across a book I don’t like much. But this, this is perfect.

Lady Aileana Kameron is the heir to her family’s name and fortune and much is expected of her. She is willing to give it, after all, she is quite content to attend assemblies and wear pretty dresses. That is until her mother is murdered by a faery her life changes.

Caught up in a vicious rage, Aileana is determined to exact revenge upon the creatures who haunt and hunt Scotland. She is skilled and deadly and beautiful and intelligent—she is precisely the kind of heroine we need. She also has her softer sides and is not dismissive of men, their help, or friendship. She is a realistic young woman and a pure pleasure to accompany on her journey of vengeance and self-discovery.16046550

Prior to reading The Falconer, I noticed May Tweeting about her character’s PTSD. This piqued my interest and I wanted nothing more than to jump in and enjoy. The way Aileana’s PTSD manifests and rules her is a perfect demonstration of a writer doing their research: nothing about Aileana’s trauma is staged or ill-executed. In fact, it gave her a layer of personality that was both exiting and touching to read. Exciting, because it adds both an inner and outer conflict that does, at times, rule the story, guiding her actions through rage and frustration; touching, because the vulnerability it reveals within Aileana is deep and real. What she witnessed was horrific and through her flashbacks and memories, we experience it, too. The writing is exceptional.

What I liked best about The Falconer was how the romance was threaded into the main plot. Affection is built through tension and the varying encounters between Kiaran and Aileana. He is fae and she should hate him, mistrust him to the core, and certainly not ally with him. Yet… she does not hate him, trusts him in her own way, and allies with him every night when they hunt together. May does an excellent job of showing the different kinds of mythic faery and revealing the exciting parts of Scottish folklore. I was fairly clued up about the faeries encountered, through extensive research on Irish folklore and faeries, and many kinds of fae cross over. I loved that. Everything felt authentic. The fae are monsters; they are beautiful and cold; they are small and impish. Many depictions of the fae swing either one way or the other: monsters that go bump in the night, or alluring elf-like (Tolkien’s elves, not wee pixies) creatures who are beautiful and perfect. May shows both sides of the fae and this creates layer upon layer of story and plot and an insight into the setting and world. Reading about Scotland instead of one of the many overused settings for historical urban fantasy was ideal. I adore the wealth of Gaelic mythology—Scottish or Irish, it doesn’t matter.

The setting is certainly an alternative vision of Scotland for the time, with various inventions and electricity of a basic sort. People have, as people are wont to do with anything historical with machines etc, dubbed it steampunk. I actually hate the term. If there is no steam it not steampunk. This feels more like clockwork-punk, or gear-punk, or brass/copper-punk (except how on earth Lady Aileana could be classed as ‘punk’ is beyond me. The original term of cyberpunk, which gave the “punk” suffix to settings, referred to a sense of ‘low life, hi-tech’. So to randomly attach ‘punk’ to an idea is pointless.), even though that setting still doesn’t quite hit it. May’s reimagined Scotland is rich with vision and scope and Aileana’s contributions of inventions and science should not automatically afford the ‘punk’ suffix. I’m waffling (bee in bonnet over the ‘steampunk’ thing); I’ll stop. Regardless of term, May invites you to a richly alternative version of Scotland that is vibrant, dark and filled with the proper society of its time versus the chaos the faeries secretly wreak. The balance is perfect between Aileana’s life as a noble lady and her night time escapades hunting her mother’s murderer—and whichever faery gets in her way in the meantime.

I couldn’t put this book down. Not only is the cover gorgeous, but the writing is sharp and beautiful and full of emotion that grabs and sucks you into Aileana’s world. I have no complaints, no niggles, nothing. I cannot find a single fault. No, really.

There is something about this book that sets it apart from other YA novels with a strong female lead. Most YA seems to feature a female protagonist (I can count on one hand the books I’ve read with a teenage boy instead of a teenage girl) so it takes something special for a protagonist to really stand out for me. Aileana is on a pedestal. The fact that May does not take away her protagonist’s need to blend into society and to act the lady when on ceremony makes for a realistic presentation of a young girl with a conflicted heart. She does not throw off her pretty dresses and rush headlong into a new life of swords and faerie-hunting. She does not try to become strong by becoming more “male”, like many characters in her place often do. Aileana remains who and what she is, true to herself. From a feminist perspective (yep, boys can be feminists, too *waves flag*) Aileana is so right a character it hurts.

The Falconer was exciting and moreish and, and, and—

Perfect. It ended so suddenly, with so fabulous a cliffhanger that I wanted to take a plane to Scotland (it’s quicker than the car) and hammer on May’s door until she surrendered at least the first chapter of the manuscript for the sequel. Not in a creepy, stalker kind of way, though… More in a ‘this was practically my favourite book of the year’ kind of way.

It has actually been difficult to write a good review for this book, because so many of my thoughts when compiling an opinion generally become a garble of fanboying uselessness. I want more books like this; I want more Elizabeth May. She’s smart and funny and writes like an angel—bit of a writer-crush here? Yep, I think so.

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