My rating: 5 of 5 stars
I am bereft. The journey is over and I am alone with myself once again. I can hear echoes of voices in my head, but the sound is dwindling. I suppose I feel somewhat like Wayland watching Vallon, Hero and Caitlin retreat into the west.
Putting aside a good book is always hard, particularly one detailing an epic adventure. After finishing Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon, I actually felt directionless, hence the opening paragraph of my review.
Hawk Quest is, first and foremost, an adventure story. It begins with a knight and a quest. There is a hostage and a ransom, but the tale is not so straight forward. The hostage, Sir Walter, knows the location of a great treasure, something worth more than his own life, and the ransom is something that proves the demise of many: two casts of pure white falcons. Gyrfalcons. They are only available in the arctic and the uncompromising lands of the far north are only accessible in the summer. Oh, and there is a deadline on delivery. It will not be a profitable venture for anyone but the Turkish emir holding Walter hostage unless they make the delivery on time.
Vallon is a disgraced knight looking for penance. When he stumbles across Hero, whose former master is all but dead, he undertakes the quest even though it will lead him in the opposite direction. It will not be the first time they are misdirected. Along the way he and Hero collect allies and enemies and rarely do they move on without leaving their mark. They fight and escape from Normans, fight and ally with Vikings, treat with Russians and elude savages, battle with nomads and finally bargain with the emir. In between, they battle against nature. Their journey takes about twelve months and all of them emerge more than a year older and wiser.
The revelation at the end is surprising at first, but it works well with the underlying theme of the book—the power of mortal men who can be extraordinary when they believe in themselves and one another.
Vallon is the ultimate hero; a hard man who tries not to break beneath the weight of responsibility and remorse. Beneath his gruff exterior, he is humble and utterly human. He has faults and regrets. He does not always make the right decision, and yet, when he falters, he is able to go on because he is innately good. His companions are not always sure of that fact.
At the end of their journey I think Vallon loses and gains the most, though the transaction is a subtle thing. I would love to meet Vallon again. I like him a great deal.
Hero’s name amused me throughout. I looked up the origin of it (a Latinized form of Heron, which is derived from the Greek Heros meaning hero, also the name of a first century Greek inventor) and decided it was well chosen. As an intellectual and scholar, Hero might never have made such a journey on his own, but his knowledge and expertise saves the party several times. By the end, he is more a man than he ever expected to be. His friendship with Richard, Walter’s youngest half-brother, is very touching.
Wayland is a falconer recruited from the household of Sir Walter’s family. At the beginning of the story, Wayland has not spoken since the brutal slaying of his entire family. Wayland’s way with all creatures makes him a valuable commodity and the obvious choice to accompany the expedition to capture the gyrfalcons. When Wayland meets Syth, his tongue unlocks and he begins a personal journey that coincides well with the main quest. His resolve and bravery astounds over and again. He has his own collection of faults, however. He remains somewhat wild and disconnected and despite his extraordinary talents, he is not infallible.
That’s what I like best about the book as a whole. All the characters are men. Ranging from terrifying to meek, all with their own set of talents. All of them are quite real.
The aforementioned Caitlin is an Icelandic ‘princess’. Also journeying with them were Syth, a foundling from the fen who captures Wayland’s heart, Raul, a faithless and yet utterly faithful German and Richard, Walter’s younger half-brother. As they move north and then east, on course and blown off course, their numbers swell to include recruits and captives, defeated Vikings and Walter’s other half-brother, Drogo, who is determined the quest will have a different outcome.
I enjoyed all the characters, even those set against Vallon and his band. Drogo in particular was an absolute pain in the arse, and yet essential to the story and the dynamic. He had his own strengths and weaknesses to contend with and they played well into the grander plot.
Then there is the adventure. Hawk Quest is the kind of book that makes me want to grab a pack, slip it over my shoulders and set off. Find a quest. With some lament, I realise I live in a time and place where I will not find the sort of adventure these characters had. Which is good and bad. More than a few of them die and they die horribly. But they lived before they died. Really lived.
The way the author describes scenery makes me want to trace their route from Scotland, Iceland, Greenland, around the northern cape of Norway, along unnamed rivers to Rus (Russia) and down the trade route to the Black Sea and Anatolia (Turkey). Lyndon weaves a magic with words that transports the reader. With a few quick, yet sumptuous sentences, the scene is set. I was there; I could see it, feel it, smell it. His use of period terminology fit perfectly with the narrative as well. The combat and battle scenes were gripping; Wayland’s adventures in Greenland kept me reading into the wee hours of the morning. The accounts of their journeys at sea had me flipping pages in a restless fervour. The gentle pace of the relationships between all involved kept the pages turning when the action paused for a breath.
At 672 pages Hawk Quest is an investment of time for all involved. I did feel the length of the book, but the above-mentioned elements lightened the load considerably. It was a joy to read and at the end I only wished for more. I stand in awe of the dedication required to write and edit such a novel. Along with the research involved, it’s an amazing accomplishment. I’m sure it was a labour of love for Lyndon, a lifelong falconer (in between bouts of “why did I ever start this?”), and as a debut novel, something to be proud of. I hope that after a well-deserved break, Robert Lyndon is inspired to pen another epic tale—surely Vallon, Hero and Wayland’s adventures have only just begun.