The Falconer’s Knot

Written by Mary Hoffman
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley Ella McNulty (aged 12) Marina Oliver

Silvano’s dagger is found in the body of a man whose wife he had been serenading. He seeks sanctuary with the Franciscans in a friary near Assisi. In the adjacent convent of Poor Clares is Chiara, sent there by a brother who cannot afford a dowry. They both work making pigments for the artists then decorating the walls of St. Francis’s Church. More murders in the friary throw renewed suspicion on Silvano. He must find the real culprit before he can return home to Perugia.

This is a closely plotted book with engaging characters, not just the two young people thrust into the monastic life against their will, but also the various nuns and friars, the merchants and nobility outside and the painters. There is a wealth of fascinating detail about the origins of the various pigments used for the frescoes and the stories they relate. Fourteenth-century Italy comes alive, and Mary Hoffman controls her populous cast with great skill. Painters as well as historians will enjoy this book. (MO)


Umbria,Italy, 1316. This is the age of Courtly Love, when young men sighed over unattainable ladies. Sixteen-year-old Silvano, handsome and rich, is in love with the wife of a rich sheep-farmer, Tommaso. Then comes news that Tommaso has been found murdered—with Silvano’s missing dagger. There is a warrant out for his arrest. He flees for sanctuary to a Franciscan friary.

Here he learns from Anselmo, the Colour Master, how to grind the pigments to make paints to decorate the new basilica of St Francis inAssisi. He also meets 15-year-old Chiara, an unwilling novice in the Poor Clares, a sister nunnery of the same Franciscan friary. She, too, is learning to make paints.

Both long to escape: Silvano to have the arrest warrant lifted and Chiara to live an ordinary life in the world outside. Then the friary is struck by a series of grisly murders and, once again, Silvano is under suspicion. So, too, is Anselmo, who has a painful secret in his past. Isabella, a rich merchant’s wife, also has a secret, and when her husband is murdered on a visit to the friary, events take a dangerous turn for Anselmo. Silvano and Chiara, whose own futures are at stake, desperately need to find the murderer before more people are killed.

I enjoyed this book. The back cover says, ‘Think The Name of the Rose for teenagers’, and that about sums it up. It’s a real page turner, and I loved learning about the art and skill of fresco painting and how to grind the precious rocks to make the brilliant colours, as well as the glimpses into monastic life. The various story strands, including a romantic element, interweave beautifully, allowing a series of mini cliff-hangers.

Recommended for 11 plus. Girls will probably enjoy it more than boys. (EH)


This book is a murder mystery set in medievalItaly, and it is very good. I know who Mary Hoffman is from the Stravaganza series but this book is very different from them.

It is very gripping, especially towards the end, and you always want to read on and find out more. The plot is narrated by different characters, jumping to a different one in each chapter. This mainly makes the plot more interesting, getting different insights into characters, but it can also be frustrating when it gets to a crucial point with one character and then it jumps to another character.

The characters, like Isabella and Chiara, are convincing and you really get worried and hope things will be OK for them. The plot has big unexpected twists. It is a very good book, and I would recommend it for ages 10 to 13. (EMcN)