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The Falconer by Elizabeth May

The Falconer by Elizabeth May
Book Name: The Falconer
Author: Elizabeth May
Publisher(s): Chronicle Books (US) Gollancz (UK)
Formatt: Hardcover / Paperback / eBook
Genre(s): YA Fantasy / Steampunk
Release Date: May 6, 2014 (US) September 26, 2013 (UK)

Faeries are having a resurgence in recent years and when I say faeries I don’t mean Tinkerbell, rather David Bowie in Labyrinth but far more sinister. May brings you into an alternate Victorian Scotland where the Fae are very real and very dangerous and her heroine Aileana has taken it upon herself to hunt them down one by one.

This is May’s first novel and the first in her Falconer Trilogy and when I heard it was about an ass kicking heroine I knew I had to review it. However, I didn’t really take to Aileana at all but I have a feeling that that’s an intentional move, she’s a complex character and May isn’t going to give you a simple one dimensional heroine. Nevertheless, she reminded me of a child who believes that if she screams, shouts and hits things enough it makes what she wants true. She is forever trying to prove herself when she could easily do this through her actions and she acts like a stroppy teenager throwing her weight and temper around.

The first person narrative doesn’t help with her trying character; also whenever she makes a point it is repeated again and again throughout the novel to hammer key themes home. I felt May should have more faith in her readers; she didn’t give them a lot of chance to figure things out. Instead she would state exactly how Aileana was feeling and thinking which could have easily been portrayed by her actions and attitude.

The whole novel reminded me of Buffy the Vampire Slayer – the chosen one, one girl against the forces of evil whilst trying to maintain a normal life, and the mysterious enemy love interest. However, something which Buffy raised above but is unfortunately present here is the common trope that for a woman to be strong they must ultimately lose their femininity and become ‘men’. Now, there is no need for all women to be feminine by any means but if they were once feminine and they completely lose this when they take on their new violent lives it gives the wrong message. It states how Aileana used to love dresses, balls and romance and now she finds them stupid. It’s understandable if her new life doesn’t allow for these things but that doesn’t mean her opinions should completely change overnight. Why should being strong mean you can’t like dresses and romance?

The novel does contain some very loveable side characters, Derrick was a particular favourite of mine, a small fairy with a lot of attitude who also provides comic relief, which is needed in a novel which is so angst ridden. Gavin, one of the love interests, is also a really interesting character however it felt very reminiscent of Twilight where the heroine ignores the guy who is clearly better for her in favour of the intense, mysterious but unattainable guy. Thankfully, unlike Twilight the romance storyline is certainly not the focus and the majority of moments are no more than hints here and there so when a certain love scene did happen it seemed a bit random as it went from a few hints to undying love.

As I’ve mentioned above instead of setting her story in a fantastical world May’s novel is set in Scotland with a number of steampunk elements added to show it is not exactly the Victorian Scotland you expect. Now the steampunk elements I found jarring, perhaps because I’m not familiar with the genre, but they seemed so out of the place and in parts unnecessary. Nevertheless May’s appreciation of Scotland is apparent and it also adds an extra element to the novel because various places are mentioned that readers could go and visit and relive moments from the novel. The biggest credit to May has got to be her portrayal of fairies; she’s clearly done her research and opens you to not just a few but a whole world of different fairies from old folk lore.

May’s portrayal of grief was heart wrenchingly accurate, those are the moments I found far more poignant than the repetitive scenes about the loss of her mother. It will be those few moments of honesty which readers will identify with. It’s also an interesting and risky step to make it clear that Aileana is clearly an addict. May plainly portrays the actions and mindset of an addict and takes this piece of YA fiction to a much darker adult place which is exactly what it should do.

I didn’t enjoy the book as much as I thought I would but I also have no doubt that there are hordes of teenage girls who will love it. No matter how I felt about the novel as a whole the ending, well, what an ending. I didn’t see it coming and it’s enough of cliff hanger to make me forgot my other feelings about the book and want to read the next instalment when it is released.


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