The Falcons of Fire and Ice

Written by Karen Maitland
Review by Gwen Sly

In 16th-century Iceland, a menacing stranger possesses the soul of a woman, chained with her twin sister in a deep cave. His malign presence threatens the lives of all those who live in the local community. Meanwhile in Portugal, two white gyrfalcons belonging to the young king have been killed. The royal falconer stands accused of the murder, and his daughter is told that if she replaces the birds within a year, her father’s life will be saved. Her journey by sea through autumnal storms takes her to the cold northern lands, a dangerous place from which she is not expected to return. To worsen matters, vaporous clouds signify that, once more, a volcano gathers strength in the Land of Ice.

In her latest novel, The Falcons of Fire and Ice, Karen Maitland competently depicts the historical atmosphere of the period in which the 16th-century Spanish Inquisition in Europe was ruthlessly torturing and burning heretics and, through the spread of fear, people discovered that indiscreet words brought damnation onto oneself as well as others. Equally, it captures the supernatural nature of the Icelandic Saga – but it is a dark book. Disquieting and compelling in turn, it is an uncomfortable and unsettling read.