Falcon’s Shadow: A Novel of the Knights of Malta (the Siege of Malta)
1551. The characters from the first book in the series, The Eight-Pointed Cross, are in turmoil: Domenicus Montesa wants to redeem his father, Augustine, who is currently a slave working for a sadist, but he doesn’t want to leave Angelica, his love. Robert Falsone and Katrina, Domenicus’s sister, are trying to work out their relationship as Katrina desperately looks for ways to earn money to ransom Augustine (and possibly her brother). The Order of St. John is of questionable value, and it’s looking like the church may start the Inquisition on Malta.
The novel is well-researched and moves at a sedate pace. There are often bits of history thrown in through conversation, and there are glimpses of the wider world beyond the conflict between the Knights of Malta and the Ottoman Empire.
There are some graphic and gruesome scenes, starting with the opening chapter, a description of being on a slave ship. The methods of torture used by Augustine’s master, Al Hajii Hamid al Azm, are particularly nasty, and Marthese Fenech brings them uncomfortably to life, although cruelty is rampant throughout both the Christian and Muslim worlds as well as the few kind characters from each culture.
The characters are often at the mercy of the forces about them, and often the character-building seems to be more about what happens to them rather than who they are. The exceptions are the two women, Katrina and Angelica, who seem to have more of an emotional life than most of the men, and Demir, the second son of the master, whose kind heart seems to shame his father.
Readers looking for detailed historical novels about Malta in the 16th century and the conflicts within the Knights Hospitaller and without will find those details in Falcon’s Shadow and its predecessor.