Desert Isle Keeper
A Falcon's Heart
Jayel Wylie’s first offering is a stunningly beautiful romance, and the perfect example of everything I think a medieval should be: part fairy tale, part political map, and total romance – so palpable, so real, you can taste it on your tongue and feel it beating in your chest. As a romance novel, this book shines. As a first novel, it gives new hope to readers who have been feeling the slump that seems to have settled over the genre of late.
Alista is the daughter of Lord Mark, formerly of Falconskeep, and his late and beloved wife Blanche. They now make their home at Brinlaw, as a reward for Mark’s loyalty to King Stephen in his war against Queen Maud, whose forces destroyed Falconskeep. But now Maud’s son Henry II sits on the throne of England. And his dearest friend is William of Brinlaw, whose father lost their home for his loyalty to the Queen. Mark rides to London to defend his claim to Brinlaw before King Henry, but when his entourage returns, they bear his lifeless but unmarked body on a litter. And at the forefront rides Will, Alista’s new intended husband, and, according to a letter from the King, her father’s choice for her, before he died.
William was but a boy when his home was taken from him. His father went to war, and his mother to a nunnery. His dear sister May, no longer considered fit for marriage by her husband-to-be, had been sent off to a distant cousin who had no use for her, and William had been sent along as part of the package. When he escaped the beatings and abuse, he fought alongside his father, as a boy of only 10. He joined Henry’s cause, and became a friend to the young royal. But then his sister hanged herself to escape more beatings and rape by her new husband, who claimed she deserved it for being daughter to a traitor. When Will heard about his sister’s fate, he took up the cross and went on Crusade to cleanse her soul, now damned for the sin of suicide. Now he is returned from Crusade, and begging his King to reward years of loyalty and friendship with his heart’s desire – Brinlaw.
In addition to brilliant storytelling, this book has whatever it is you’re looking for. A breathtaking love story? Check. Well-drawn, intelligent and likable characters, worthy of love? Check. Mystery? Suspense? Check and check. Paranormal elements? Check. Realistic religious and political attitudes? Check. Excitement, intrigue, heart-wrenching and heart-warming expressions of love? All checks. Great secondary characters? You guessed it – a big check. Plot, characters, writing, and true love – this book has it all.
There’s so much going on in this novel that I hesitate to give any away. The hero is tortured, but well-done, escaping the clichés that so haunt medievals. And the heroine’s very stable and loving family relationships are extremely refreshing, given their rarity. The secondary characters are great without being set-ups for sequels, which is both a novelty and a slight disappointment, since these are people you wouldn’t mind seeing again. Brother Paolo is so close to the storytelling as to almost be the narrator, staying with the heroine – and later the hero – nearly every step of the way, yet the reader sees nearly as much in what he does not realize as in what he does. Despite his presence, the story remains very personally connected to Alista and Will, and their fateful and tempestuous story.
If I had any criticisms of the story, they would be small ones. For example, Druscilla, Mark’s mistress, who remains integral to the story throughout is supposed to be French, but except for the occasional n’est pas, she sounds much like everyone else. And occasionally the story seems predictable. Yet even then, the plot takes an unexpected turn, and even in its predictable moments, readers will find themselves turning pages with the same eagerness as ever. The power of the story to hook the reader in is its greatest strength, even beyond that of the characters, plot, and soaring tale of love within.
A Falcon’s Heart is by far the best debut I’ve ever read. Enchanting, breathtaking, and heartpounding by turns, it is a tale of love that would turn even the hardest of hearts. Three cheers for Ms. Wylie, and for our luck in finding her.