Backlist Review: The Falconer by Elizabeth May

Thursday, August 25, 2016
Title: The Falconer
Author: Elizabeth May
Genre: awesome, supernatural, steampunk
Series: The Falconer #1
Pages: 393 (ARC edition)
Published: expected May 6 2014
Source: publishers via edelweiss
Rating: 4.5/5

Heiress. Debutant. Murderer. A new generation of heroines has arrived.

Edinburgh, Scotland, 1844

Lady Aileana Kameron, the only daughter of the Marquess of Douglas, was destined for a life carefully planned around Edinburgh’s social events – right up until a faery killed her mother.

Now it’s the 1844 winter season and Aileana slaughters faeries in secret, in between the endless round of parties, tea and balls. Armed with modified percussion pistols and explosives, she sheds her aristocratic facade every night to go hunting. She’s determined to track down the faery who murdered her mother, and to destroy any who prey on humans in the city’s many dark alleyways.

But the balance between high society and her private war is a delicate one, and as the fae infiltrate the ballroom and Aileana’s father returns home, she has decisions to make. How much is she willing to lose – and just how far will Aileana go for revenge?

Let's run through that checklist of things Aileana is promised to be in The Falconer:
Heiress. Check.
To all manner of surprising things, in fact.
Debutant. Checkcheck.
In more than one role.
Murderer. Checkcheckcheck.
Many times over...... but not in the way you think.
Fully Badass and Awesome. Checkcheckcheckcheck.
Okay, that one isn't implicitly stated, but you hoped, didn't you, upon reading that blurb, that Aileana Kameron would be realistic but badass, smart but flawed, feminine and capable. You were right to, because she is all those things, and more. She carries this novel easily on her Buffy*-like shoulders, transporting readers into her steampunkian Scottish world.

As part of a generation that has grown up with (and as one who genuinely loves) the Disney version of fairies and fairy tales, and The Falconer makes reading the subverted versions of those well-known fae tropes even more fun. These are fae that are evil, gross, destructive, not happy little sprites eager to raise human babies/braid hair/sing a jaunty tune. No, they like human energy and they kill to acquire it. Fighting them is a battle, and Aileana Kameron is one hell of a warrior. Powered by grief and rage, she is a fae-killing machine. She is the kind of girl who hides a lightning pistol in her petticoats, you know what I mean? Basically, if Buffy was an 18th century 18-year-old Scottish noble with vengeance against the fae on her mind, her name would be Aileana Kameron. This is a girl to be reckoned with on her own, but when paired with her teacher and, yes, love interest, Kiaran, she is nigh unstoppable.

Until she does something kinda stupid and which: does help her solve the mystery of her mother's death, but also puts her through some serious hell while racking up a body count. (It also provides a whole lot of momentum for the plot, so it's quite neat and smart from a reader standpoint while being totally horrible for the characters.) That's Aileana for you. For the most part, she plays it cool and collected, if not wholly inconspicuous in her dual life. Occasionally though, she messes up big time (see: disobeying Kiaran's orders about hunting, ditching Derrick when he is protecting her) but I liked her all the more for her faults. Aileana is a whirl-storm of emotions and impulses, but May has the voice and narration down pat. It's all authentic here - from vocabulary to weaponry - you know that Aileana is Scottish, angry, smart, and deadly.

There's a lot of cool, inventive stuff going on in the pages of The Falconer. There's the creepy, deadly version of the sithichean (which is much more than just Seelie/Unseelie, btw), but the author doesn't stop there. She also envisioned and created Aileana's role of a Falconer (aka seabhagair), a hereditary female trait, which endows her ability to fight the fae. As part of her powers, the daughter of the marquise can also "taste" the different kind of fae when in proximity - a revenant will taste of sulfur and ammonia, but daoine sith will "taste" of honey and nature. There's also a rare thistle - seigflur - which allows her to see the fae for 13 days before losing its power. What you need to know is that Elizabeth May has recreated Scotland and retrofitted it to fit in real fae. And she sells the hell out of it.

And all of that is not even touching the steampunk aspect of the novel. Once again, this debut author demonstrates a lot of ability for fusing her imagination into cool-sounding, easily-envisioned effects. Here we have things like "stitchers" medial spiders (ew) that can help sew up a wound, or a lightning pistol, or Aileana's ornithopter (that she built herself, natch). There's a wide array of ways May explored and infused 1844 Scottish society with steam technology and it's a pretty seamless blend all told. The supernatural and the steampunk are well matched, work together,  and help to balance the narrative rather well.

I do admit a few elements of The Falconer confused me as I read my way through it in less than a day. Where did the line "crimson suits you best" come from? Who said it? I get what it implies, but the origin was never mentioned? Also, the way time is referred to is different -- "elevenhours" "fourhours" - and it's also never really explained.

With all that The Falconer packs in in a relatively short amount of time and page - mythology, fae, steampunk, revenge - there's a lot going on character-wise. Aileana is the breakout star, as she should be, but her compatriots are nothing to complain about and can hold their own with or without her. Aileana's best friend Catherine might not feature a lot, but she has a lot of personality for how little she appears. Gavin, though less explored than he could be, is quite interesting for his own reasons and grows even over the short period of time he is on the page in The Falconer. Aileana's father, and her relationship with him, are both relatively complex, but needed more screentime with the two of them together to really create pathos.

I'm almost to the end and I would be remiss if I didn't mention Kiaran. The other character highlight of the novel, Kiaran is also the love interest. Aaaand he's mysterious and broody and kind of an asshole. He's also way, way more than that because this is Elizabeth May, come on now. Everyone has history and backstory and facets and secrets, and Kiaran has more than most. Like Aileana, it takes time to care about this charming bastard, but you will. Oh boy, you will. Think Sturmhond levels of adoration. He is a scene-stealer and I absolutely love how May handled the romance. Essentially, there really isn't much of one. And you will WANT there to be. By making the readers love each character individually, May could not prove more how much these two belong together. But life is complicated, because reasons. Read the book.

If you just want the short of it, know The Falconer is unputdownable for a lot of reasons. It's fun, actiontastic, creative, and just bloodthirsty enough. Aileana is a standout character. She reminds me of Karou in that she really doesn't remind me of any other character (literary-wise, we aren't counting Buffy). As someone who has always dreamed of living in the past but hates the roles for women back then, Aileana is the perfect kind of unconventional heroine. She may not be perfect, the Ton may gossip about her dance card, but she can handle an ornithopter and a crossbow, while being sarcastic. Who would you rather hang out with? 

Be prepared for me to push this book on you all year long. Until the next one is out.

Recommended for: fans of Crown of Midnight aka those who enjoy fierce heroines, great male leads, complex worlds, lots of mythology. 

*credit to Meg of Cuddlebuggery for that astute comparison

1 comment:

  1. I loved this book so very much! The characters, action, plot...everything were just perfect for me. I need book 2 now. So happy to see that you loved it too. Sigh, now I want to reread it.


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