Book Review: Falcon’s Shadow by Marthese Fenech
By Marthese Fenech
The ghosts of war leave no footprints. When legendary Ottoman seaman Dragut Raїs attacks the Maltese islands in 1551, his army renders Gozo a smoking ruin emptied of its entire population. Among the five thousand carried into slavery is Augustine Montesa, father of Domenicus and Katrina.
Wounded and broken, Domenicus vows to find his father, even if it means abandoning Angelica, his true love. Armed with only a topaz to serve as ransom, he sets out on a journey that sees him press-ganged from the streets of mainland Europe and thrown into the frontline of battle. On Malta, Katrina strives to keep her family home from falling apart. After the Grand Master of the knights has her publicly flogged for speaking out against him, she struggles to find work. When at last she stumbles upon a promising position, all is not as it seems. Her new job forces her to confront a terrifying truth—one that could prove disastrous for Robert, the man she loves.
Hundreds of leagues to the east in Istanbul, Demir works hard to become an imperial Ottoman horseman, despite having to endure the cruelty of his half-brother and father. Life takes an unexpected turn the moment Demir encounters a young woman, stolen from Malta, brought into the household as another of his father’s concubines.
Falcon’s Shadow sweeps from quarry pits to sprawling estates, tumultuous seas to drought-ravaged lands, the dungeons beneath the bishop’s palace to the open decks of warships, creaking gallows to sun-drenched courtyards. Two empires collide at the Battle of Djerba, a fateful clash which unites lost kin, only to tear them apart once more.
"The day a man becomes a slave, he loses half his soul…"
While the smoke settles over Gozo, the Maltese islanders take stock of all that they have lost. And as Augustine Montesa takes his first shaky steps in the capital of his enemy, life as he knew it was going to come abruptly to an end. Sold to the cruel and vicious Al Hajji Hamid al Azm, Augustine is determined to escape at the earliest opportunity. But no man escapes the clutches of Al Hajji Hamid al Azm, or no woman, for that matter.
Malta may be a lifetime away from Istanbul, but Augustine's family have not forgotten him. Domenicus Montesa is willing to travel to the very ends of the earth to find his father. But the journey he embarks on is fraught with danger and difficulties.
As Augustine tries to come to terms with his reality, he makes an unlikely friend in Al Hajji Hamid al Azm's son. Demir dreams of becoming an Imperial Ottoman horseman when he grows up, but events in his mothers past may mean such dreams will never come to fruition. Forced to live in an abusive household, Augustine takes the child under his wing, but doing so comes at a tremendous personal cost...
From the desperation of the slave market to the horrors of the battlefield, Falcon's Shadow by Marthese Fenech is the evocative story of one family who is torn apart by war, ambition and an appalling act of revenge.
What a story! Falcon's Shadow is an emotional, tear-jerkingly brilliant novel that left me gasping for breath and begging for more. This is the kind of book that demands your attention from the opening sentence until the last full stop. It is a story of terrible suffering, but it is also one of desperate hope.
Falcon's Shadow is set during the latter half of the 16th Century. It is a time of war, fear, injustice, and it is also the eve of the Roman Inquisition. The banning of books would only be the beginning. In a time of political unrest, the characters in this book have to decide who is the biggest threat, and although they fear the foreign invaders, it is those closest to home who are potentially the most dangerous. In the first novel in this fabulous series, it is The Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem who are the most repressive, but now it is the Church that poses the biggest threat to the people. Through the introduction of a secret opposition society, Fenech asks her readers to reflect on the frustration and anger that the people of Malta must have felt towards those in charge.
Fenech also explores the corrupting power of unchecked ambition and moral constraints during this era in history. The power of the Church, which took it upon itself to be judge, jury and executioner, is played out with all of its devastating consequences. Likewise, the evilness of the characters in this novel cannot be found in those accused of wrongdoing, but in those who are accusing, and those who are willing to listen to such baseless allegations. At times, this book makes for some challenging reading, for the terrible atrocities that occur to one particular character is genuinely shocking and absolutely heart-rendering. The sanctuary of life is corrupted by those who are apparently in God's favour with devastating consequences for the victim and her family. This is the kind of book where a box of tissues close at hand is not a suggestion, but a must.
The power of wealth and the deceitfulness of the gentler sex is also explored and highlights the fact that it is not just men who are capable of violence and evil. The fact that it is a woman who causes such unimaginable grief is repulsive, and yet at the same time it should come as no surprise, for Fenech likes to shock her readers with the lengths the antagonists will go to achieve their aims.
There are so many wonderful characters in this novel, and each has a story to tell. The numerous voices employed in telling this tale gave the narrative a richness that would have been impossible to obtain through a single perspective. And because the protagonists are so likeable and their stories are so realistically narrated, I enjoyed reading about them all.
The two characters that really stood out for me were Angelica and Demir. Angelica's story is desperately tragic and how I grieved for her when she found herself in the most intolerable of situations. Angelica's portrayal was sublime, and I cannot wait to get my hands on Book 3 of this series because I am desperate to find out what happens to her.
Demir was a character that captured my heart in Book 1 of this series, and he once again stole my heart in this book. The more I read about this character, the more I adore him. He is such a contrast to his vile father and half-brother. His gentle and compassionate heart does him no favours as he grows up, and yet he does not let the evil that surrounds him, corrupt him in any way. I am really looking forward to reading more about this fascinating character.
Fenech has captured the very essences of this era. The hours of research that has so painstakingly gone into this book has to be commended. This novel is what Historical Fiction is all about. It is, in all ways, an absolute success.
Falcon's Shadow by Marthese Fenech is a beautifully compelling, and emotional read. Book 3 can not come soon enough.
I Highly Recommend.
Review by Mary Anne Yarde.
The Coffee Pot Book Club.
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Marthese Fenech is the author of historical novels set in sixteenth-century Europe. Research has taken her to the ancient streets her characters roamed, the fortresses they defended, the seas they sailed, and the dungeons they escaped. Obstinate curiosity has led her to sixty-five countries across six continents. She does her best plot-weaving while hiking mountain trails, wandering local markets, paddle boarding cliff-sheltered bays, and sitting at home with her Siberian husky curled at her feet. The youngest of five, Marthese was born in Toronto to Maltese parents. At twelve, she moved to Malta for six months and was enrolled in an all-girls private school run by nuns; she lasted three days before getting kicked out for talking too much. Back in Toronto, she started her own business recording, editing, and selling bootleg heavy metal concerts. She later worked with special needs children and adults, witnessing small miracles daily. Marthese has a Master’s degree in Education and teaches high school English and Social Science. She speaks fluent Maltese and French and knows how to ask where the bathroom is in Spanish and Italian. A former kickboxing instructor, she surfs, snowboards, scuba-dives, climbs, skydives, throws axes, and practices yoga—which may sometimes include goats. She lives north of Toronto with her brilliant, mathematically-inclined husband and brilliant, musically-inclined dog, known to lead family howl sessions on occasion.
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