England, AD 1072, and a Christian knight languishes in Anatolia, captive of Emir Suleyman. His ransom: four rare birds of prey, gyrfalcons to be taken as nestlings from icy, near-mythical Greenland; thence by sea and land, to reach the emir within one year. That is the quest, so perilous that there is bound to be loss of life – hawk and human. The men who undertake the journey have their own secrets and purposes. Vallon, the leader, an outcast tormented by guilt; Hero, possessor of dangerous knowledge; Wayland, hawk master, traumatised and mute, protected by the gigantic dog-with-no-name; Raul, craftier than he seems; Richard, a known coward – terrors ahead can’t be worse than the hell of home. Pursued by old enemies, this ill-assorted band soon includes women: Syth, a Fenland will-o-the-wisp, and Caitlin, a haughty Icelander. And apart from nestlings, Wayland triumphantly captures a priceless treasure: a haggard, a pure white gyrfalcon that has already achieved full flight in the wild.
Give time to Hawk Quest. Do not be tempted to skip anything: you may lose a small vital incident or a metaphor of startling originality that illuminates a whole scene. Does four pages devoted to raising a ship’s mast sound tedious? It is not; it is suspenseful near to screaming point. This magnificent novel has all the breathtaking cruelties and valour a lover of historical adventure and romance can wish for – the treatment of wounds will have readers gnawing their own fingers – but there is more: growing respect, affection and understanding between the little group of such diverse men and women engages those same readers’ feelings with an intensity that will surely mean tears before the end. The haggard gyrfalcon soaring, literally above all, learns to live in the world of humankind.