Fiction Reviews

The Falconer

(2013) Elizabeth May, Gollancz, £12.99, hrdbk, 317pp, ISBN 978-0-575-13040-1


On the basis that I’ll always be young (see name at end of review – last poor joke), I thought I would try a YA (young adult/juvenile) title. And then I got confused – the story starts with a young woman in a Victorian social setting, who has 'powers' of her own, and who is confronted by a unworldly creature. I was confused because I had recently read Soulless by Gail Carriger, which opens with a very similar scene, but with the creature being a vampire rather than a fae. And having very much enjoyed the humour of that book, I thought 'Oh well, confused or not, I hope it’s as good.'

Unfortunately, it was not. Yes, it is a swashbuckling, steampunk romp through the streets and surrounding area of Edinburgh. Yes, there is a feisty heroine; a friend from the past who she is being forced to marry and who seems just as uninterested in being wed to her as she is to him; a mysterious fae companion who has trained her in combat; and a camp pixie who lives in her dressing room. Yes, there is a backstory concerning the death of her mother which is spurring the heroine on to revenge her death, and the ever-approaching apocalypse when the forces of fae will be unleashed against humanity.

But (and I know this is a fantasy, etc., etc.) it just seemed …. well, silly isn’t quite the word I’m looking for, but if you combine it with annoying, you will get my drift. Lady Aileana Kameron is the heroine's name (now, where have I heard that surname before); she is but 18, but she is an expert in explosives & mechanics (she makes her own weapons and vehicles). She is a Falconer, as was her mother – Falconer because 'they are capable of travelling between our worlds, because they belong to both – just as a Falconer does' (page 180) – so when you see a falcon diving for prey and it disappears, it has gone into another dimension.

There are lots of gaelic names for fae mentioned, which can be quite confusing as they can tend to look similar, and with no real explanation of function – until you get to the very end of the book, where there is a 'Bestiary' which gives Aileana's definitions (but there is no mention of this at the beginning of the book – perhaps the publishers expected the fae to guide you there).

I could go on – the coming apocalypse seemed to me very similar to the end of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, the fae Pixie was just too Kenneth Williams' Willow-the-Wisp, the potential bodice-ripping scenes were a bit too many, …

Usually I think you could do without maps in a book – they do not really answer the questions I pose. However, in this case, not knowing the layout of Edinburgh, I really could have done with one.

I am sure the intended audience will love it, and all the following books – the ending just prepares you for the next, but for this 56 year-old, give me H. P. Lovecraft any day (I know, I know, I called this book 'silly' – but there is silly and there's silly).

Peter Young

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