Book Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May
Genre: Steampunk, fantasy
Series: The Falconer #1
Publisher: Gollancz (September 2013)
Author Info: elizabethmaywrites.com
Wendy’s Rating: 4.5 of 5 stars
“Kiaran and I have little connection beyond our names. We battle, bleed and hunt together almost every night. He teaches me how to slaughter in the most effective, brutal ways possible. But I’ve never told Kiaran why I hunt, and he has never told me why he kills his own kind. This is our ritual, our dance. The only one that matters.”
I started a review for this book shortly after I completed it, but it ended up becoming a rant that eventually led to my “Y I H8 YA” post. So let me try this again…
The book blurb starts as follows:
She’s a stunner.
Edinburgh, 1844. Eighteen-year-old Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, has everything a girl could dream of: brains, charm, wealth, a title—and drop-dead beauty.
Let me just stop you right there, blurb, because I am not about your cheap marketing ploy. If there’s one great thing about both the character and the book itself, it doesn’t spend nearly as much time getting caught up in Aileana’s looks and her subsequent desirability. Which is one of the many things that makes it a YA story that I can deal with.
Aileana is a fae hunter. After the violent death of her mother at the hands of a fae that has haunted her, Aileana has dedicated her life to destroying these creatures, using her unique gifts and her mechanical skills to do so. Much of her training comes, ironically, from a fae, whom Ailaena knows she cannot trust, though she needs him to accomplish her goals of finding the creature that murdered her mother.
And she must achieve all of this while hiding behind the mask society expects her to wear. She doesn’t do particularly well with the latter, which is another thing I like. The story focuses on Aileana and not on any angsty societal struggles over her beaut–or her youth, for that matter. This story could easily belong to a character much older than her 18 years, and it does not spend a ridiculous amount of time reminding us of how old she happens to be.
There is a steampunk element to the story that mainly comes in the form of Aileana’s inventions. The implication is that ornithopters and mending spiders aren’t necessarily unusual in this society, but Aileana has to keep her usage of them on the downlow such that they only tend to appear at the moment of need. This gives them a bit of a deus ex machina feel, but, since they don’t appear too often and aren’t necessarily plot saving devices, I’ll let their convenience slide.
There is an inevitable romance–two in fact, but again, unlike the typical YA demands, Aileana’s story and growth do not get lost in this, and nor are the men who desire her there simply as love interests. They both respect her and her desires and are willing to accept her decision, either way, with the understanding that her priority is well beyond romance. Aileana herself is a powerful character whose struggles with the world after dark are balanced well with her struggles with the society she doesn’t fit into. I particularly enjoyed the scenes with her father that aren’t merely a stubborn daughter wrestling against a father that doesn’t understand. Aileana has lost her mother, but she recognizes too that her father has lost his wife in all of this, and there is a significant amount of depth to the emotions they both keep hidden from each other over this matter.
There seems to be a checklist for what YA novels need to include, and while The Falconer does include a lot of them, I loved the way it carefully side steps the now stereotypical expectations to give me something that I truly enjoyed and definitely want more of.