REVIEW: The Falconer by Elizabeth May
Dear Ms. May,
I admit it. I’m jaded on the speculative fiction genre. It’s not that I’ve seen it all because I don’t think that’s the case. How is that even possible? I just think that a lot of what’s currently out there fits into a certain type, and that’s what I’m tired of. Your debut, The Falconer, brought enough different to keep me interested but it also brought a couple of my least favorite YA tropes.
Set in a 19th century steampunk Scotland, The Falconer tells the story of Aileana Kameron. One year ago, Aileana was your perfect society miss, thinking of nothing more than her next beautiful gown and future as a wife and mother. Then her mother was murdered before her eyes — murdered by a fae.
The murder destroyed Aileana’s life. Because she couldn’t tell the truth about the killer — no one believes in faeries in this enlightened age — a shadow lingers over her. No one dares accuse her of murdering her mother but almost everyone thinks it. Consumed by rage, Aileana began to hunt faeries, searching for her mother’s killer. Her first hunt very nearly ends in her death but she is saved by Kiaran, a powerful faerie lord who is hunting his own kind. Kiaran takes her under his wing and begins to train her how to kill his own people.
Now Scotland is on the verge of disaster. The number of faerie attacks is increasing, and Aileana learns it is because a seal that traps the fae has begun to weaken. Unless the seal can be recharged, the fae will break free and all of humanity will fall under their onslaught.
In many ways, this actually reminded me of Colleen Gleason’s The Gardella Chronicles, except the YA version and with faeries instead of vampires. I don’t think this is a bad thing because I still think of that original series fondly. But I do like the struggle Aileana faces between trying to be a perfect lady and realizing she can’t be because her mother’s violent death forever changed her.
Aileana left me feeling torn. I liked her rage. On the other hand, I wish we’d seen more repercussions involving her inability to assume the “perfect lady” facade. We never actually saw any. Oh sure, we saw her almost being caught killing faeries or being found in suspicious circumstances but I’m talking about the little things. Like her saying awkward things at balls or ignoring potential suitors. What about her just snapping at all the debutantes who spread nasty rumors at her? For someone who has anger management issues, she conveniently seems able to control it except when the plot calls for it.
I also admit the genius inventor angle stretched my suspension of disbelief. It’s not the fact that she’s an inventor. I loved that. But I think I would have had an easier time if her inventing had been focused on gadgets and weapons. I found that well within the realm of belief, especially if it’s something she shared with her mother. I even could have let the mini-helicopter go if it’d been less perfect an invention and had its flaws — maybe rickety or had dubious wings. What made me scoff was her somehow building a steampunk driven secret entrance that leads from her bedroom to the outside. How do you keep that a secret? Because that’s not just engineering; that’s architecture and hoping that a support wall wouldn’t be destroyed in the process. I didn’t see why it was necessary to make her the best inventor/engineer ever. She’s 18. There’s nothing wrong with her being good and gifted.
The romantic subplot is muddled. There’s Kiaran, Aileana’s fae mentor. Vampires or faeries, apparently my reaction is the same: save me from the sexy-dangerous, centuries old love interest. The older I get, the more I see all these near-immortals being interested in teenagers and wonder why they’re all so creepy. It also doesn’t help that I thought the chemistry between Kiaran and Aileana was forced. Then we meet Derrick, the older brother of Aileana’s best friend and who she once had a crush on. A love triangle? Oh no! But because I’m contrary, I found myself cheering for Derrick even though I knew the story wouldn’t favor him. And indeed, the romance becomes crystal clear by the end of the book and I was less than impressed.
As I said earlier, the setting is steampunk Scotland. I don’t know if this actually added anything to the book. It did make it different but as far as I could tell, the only change was the technology. It didn’t change the society or the people, which I find a bit hard to believe.
While The Falconer didn’t quite live up to my expectations, I did finish it and found it immensely readable despite my misgivings over certain elements. That said, I must warn potential readers that there is a terrible cliffhanger at the end — quite possibly the worst cliffhanger I’ve read in years. So if cliffhangers bother you, I’d recommend waiting for the sequel to come out. B-