Ahoy there me mateys! This be the twelfth book in me Ports for Plunder – 19 Books in 2019 list. I have wanted to read this book for a long time. I discovered it back in the days when I had no blog and even less money than I do now. So first I read the owl killers about beguinages because I could get it from the library. That was a five star read and so I knew I wanted to read more of her work. Never did. When 19 in 2019 came around, I gave in and bought a copy of this novel because a) I had some loot; and b) I just had to know about the falcons.
This book is set in 1539 during the Portuguese Inquisition. The Inquisitors are out to destroy the “Marranos” who are the Spanish and Portuguese Jews who were forced to convert to Catholicism. Some of them still practice in secret. The Catholic Church wants all Jews to burn. In the midst of this fervor, Isabela’s father, the Royal Falconer has been framed for killing the King’s favourite falcons and be imprisoned. The falcons must be replaced within one year or father will die. So Isabela sets out from Portugal to Iceland to capture two new birds. Cool concept right?
Unfortunately I struggled with the execution of this one. I absolutely loved the entire section set in Portugal and how Isabel’s family gets tangled into the politics of the Inquisition. The start of the journey to Iceland was where the problems with the book started. How Isabel is able to buy passage on the ship to Iceland was unrealistic. I mistakenly thought that Isabel would disguise herself as a boy and complete her tasks that way. Nope. She is so naive and travels as a girl alone. Didn’t buy it. That said I loved the ship travel itself. Arrrr! But the multiple points of view started confusing me during the ship travel too.
Besides Isabel, there be Ricardo the rogue and Eywis the seer. I actually did enjoy all three characters. Ricardo is out to get Isabel but doesn’t really want to follow orders. Eywis (and her twin) be trapped in an Icelandic cave because of their powers and Eywis inadvertently helps release a menace that threatens all of Iceland. The POV problem stems from the three young men on the ship (Ricardo being one) all traveling for nefarious sounding purposes and under assumed names. During the Isabel chapters the three all seemed interchangeable and I couldn’t tell who was who. I was so confused even with flipping back and forth. Of course they all chased and fawned after Isabel. Bah.
Then comes the section in Iceland. Having visited Iceland earlier this year, I absolutely loved reading about the setting and life there. But the plot became plodding and the magic, while cool, didn’t make much sense. Isabel makes stupid choices continuously, the three men are still annoying, and seriously they all should have died multiple times given how unprepared and pompous they were. The magic fighting evil plot felt nonsensical at times. I bought Eywis’ magic and found it to be interesting. I didn’t buy Isabel’s part in the magic at all. I wanted falcons dang it. And then the falcons and ending were lackluster and irksome.
So did I hate this book given me complaints? No. I wanted to know how it turned out and did enjoy the characters, world building, and magic. I just was under the impression that Isabel’s story would be the focus and it wasn’t. The blurb was misleading and I wanted something different.
I do actually want to read more of this author’s work. I enjoy her viewpoints into the magic, myths, and politics of the middle ages. I love the historical notes at the end of her books. Her author Goodreads bio describes two other works as “her first medieval thriller was ‘Company of Liars’, was set at the time of the Black Death in 1348 . . . [and] ‘The Gallows Curse’ is set in the reign of bad King John.” Plus she has one called the plague charmer set in 1361 that sounds fun. The library has company of liars so when I be in the mood for another of Maitland’s books I will read that next. Arrrr!
Goodreads had this to say about the novel:
The year is 1539 and the Portuguese Inquisition ushers in an era of torture and murder. When the Royal Falconer is imprisoned on false charges to remove him from the inner circle of the boy King, the Inquisitors strike an impossible deal with his daughter, Isabela. Bring back two rare white falcons from Iceland within the year or her father dies.
Meanwhile in Iceland, a menacing stranger appears to have possessed the soul of a woman chained up in a volcanic cave and is threatening to destroy the community. The woman’s twin sister, Eydis, is desperate to intervene but vivid dreams suggest the twins’ only salvation lies with a young girl from afar, travelling in search of white feathers.
Isabela’s quest might hold a more crucial purpose then she could ever imagine and there are those among her travel companions who have an interest in doing her harm. But in order to fulfil her destiny, first she must reach Iceland’s shores. Alive.
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