The Falcon of Palermo
This author’s first novel is a fictional biography of the legendary Frederick II, who ruled as Holy Roman Emperor for the first half of the thirteenth century. Frederick’s story begins in Sicily. Orphaned by the age of four, he has inherited the once-wealthy but now impoverished kingdom from his mother Constance. As a young man, he occupies himself with kingship, denying any connection to the legacy of his late grandfather Barbarossa, the Holy Roman Emperor. But the German princes and Pope Innocent have other plans. Hoping for a more malleable emperor than Otto, they offer to support Frederick’s election instead. To their dismay, Frederick, who comes to be known as “Stupor Mundi,” the wonder of the world, is not willing to be a puppet of the Church. As emperor, Frederick believes he can bring back the glory and stability of ancient Rome.
This well-researched novel succeeded best in outlining the historical and political details of Frederick’s reign, his conflicts with Otto and with successive popes. Unfortunately, I was not equally drawn in to the portrayal of Frederick’s personal life. People flitted on and off the pages without making much of an impression on him or upon me. Eventually the book became simply a series of major events with little transition. The characters were present because they were necessary to the storyline, but they never developed enough emotional depth to make the relationships seem real. This may have been the fault of trying to fit too large a life into too short of a book. However, if you are looking for an introduction to this extraordinary emperor, this is a pleasant and quick read.