Falcon's Shadow (Book Review)
by Marthese Fenech
Falcon’s Shadow is a sequel to Eight Pointed Cross. I reviewed EPC earlier this year and I gave it a 5 / 5. Despite the fact I still believe it earns a perfect score, I loved Falcon’s Shadow even more!
The story follows a small collection of characters living in 16th-century Malta. I don't want to provide too much of a summary as it could spoil book one, but a major part of this novel deals with the Battle of Djerba, as well as typical life during the period.
While Eight Pointed Cross takes a little to get going, as it has to acclimatize the reader to the time period and the characters, Falcon’s Shadow begins with a punch that leaves you breathless. The most horrific part about the treatment of prisoners in the 1500s is the fact that it actually happened. It’s a stark reminder of why human rights are something we shouldn’t take for granted, even today.
As with its predecessor, Falcon’s Shadow is clearly painstakingly researched. Every little detail feels authentic and Fenech does not shy away from the gory details of life before sanitation.
Part of what makes it feel so real is the dialogue. Unlike a lot of historical fiction that employs a formal speech pattern to suggest antiquity, this trilogy allows its characters to talk in a way that balances anachronism with realism. It’s extremely compelling.
Fenech excels at a number of different narrative facets, but for me, I was particularly engrossed by three aspects:
First, how she’s able to disarm not only the characters but the reader, about other characters’ true intentions. We’re given a limited perspective into five or six characters throughout the series. This leaves us able to understand and empathize with their actions, but we are given only small glimpses into other characters. This is done particularly well with Diana, a minor character who has a major impact.
Second, the battle scenes are utterly engrossing. I don’t read a ton of historical fiction, but I read a lot of fantasy. Fenech’s action is comparable to Steven Ericson or Joe Abercrombie. In fact, despite the story being wholly rooted in realism, I think military fantasy readers would also enjoy this novel as well as military history buffs.
Third, there is a deep critique of systematic power structures that rely on racism and sexism to cement control. This is seen with all the characters, but most viscerally by the heartbreaking way a character is treated after being manipulated by another character simply out of spite. Her sections were utterly frustrating with regard to female agency and bodily autonomy, even more so because treatment of similar nature still happens today. Only a few countries today are women fully in control of their own bodies. This makes the general critique of these ancient, yet still existing, institutions all the more poignant.
I could go on further, but I’d be branching into spoilers. If you enjoy impressively researched history, realistic characters for whom you root and despair, and a story that dries out your eyes from compulsive reading, get Falcon’s Shadow.