Saturday, August 21, 2010

Review: On Falcon's Wings by Lisa Yarde

The story opens in Lille in 11th Century Flanders, with an emotive scene of a public whipping meted out to Avicia, a Normal noblewoman as punishment for the killing of a pet merlin belonging to her mistress. Edric of Newington, a Saxon warrior and the man she loves, witnesses the punishment but is powerless to prevent it.

Orphaned young, Avicia was raised by her uncle, Count Roland and his wife, Countess Gisele, securing a position for her as Lady Matilda’s attendant. Fearing she may never see Edric again, who is on his way back to England, Avicia seeks solace among the falcons she loves.

Edric’s parents, Lord Tunwulf and the Lady Emmeline, arrange his marriage to Cynwise, the former lover of Earl Sweyne, Earl Harold Godwinson’s brother. Resentful, but obedient, Edric embarks on a loveless marriage, made no better when he learns Sweyne was his wife’s attacker, not her lover.

In Flanders, Avicia is rescued from a skittish horse by two brothers in Duke William’s entourage, Hugh of Montford sur Risle and his brother, Phillipe. She treats them both with disdain, but Phillipe comes to her rescue again when, after interrupting a liaison between a woman and her Uncle Rudolf in the mews, he attacks her. Philippe asks for her hand and although Avicia welcomes the opportunity to escape Lille, she is apprehensive of the dark stranger.

Philippe convinces her they belong together and Avicia relents. Alice de Beaufort becomes her close friend in Rouen and they are married at St Ouen church in Normandy.

In Kent, Edric celebrates the birth of a son, and Tunwulf leaves for Sandwich with Earl Godwin. Edric says goodbye to his father, only for him to be lost at sea.

Avicia discovers she is pregnant and persuades Philippe to let her accompany him to England with Duke William. Edric and Cynwise are also bound for London, where Cynwise is asked to care for the two small boys – Wulfnoth, Earl Harold’s son and Haakon, his brother Sewyn’s bastard. Avicia faints when she sets eyes on Edric and informed of her pregnancy Philippe demonstrates his anger at her for keeping it a secret.

Edric and Avicia are thrown together when the English Court moves to Gloucester. Resentful of her happy marriage, Edric insults her previous station in life. Avicia is hurt, but begins to see imperfections in her own husband. She provokes a fight and runs out, straight into Edric. He apologises, but although Avicia acknowledges her feelings for him, she is a married woman and knows they have no future.

Time passes and William, Duke of Normandy casts covetous eyes on the English throne. It is not the first time Edric and Avicia are thrown together, but their repressed mutual passion cannot be disregarded and they embark on a dangerous affair.

Bishop Odo of Bayeux, Duke Harold’s half brother, accuses Avicia of adultery. Reviled by her husband and friends, she is imprisoned, awaiting trial. Edric refuses to abandon Avicia, but his king commands him, saying he can do nothing other than watch her suffer if he stays.

Pregnant, Avicia is sent to the convent of Montivilliers, where the daughter she recognises as being Philippes is born. She travels to Rouen to face her accusers, but before she leaves, she tells Alice she will pledge baby Cecelia to the convent. Alice is confused but Avicia has her reasons.

In Rouen, Avicia will not confess to adultery and is subjected to the ordeal of iron; carrying a hot iron three paces to the cathedral door. Her hand is bandaged and sealed with wax for three days, but if it shows no signs of healing, Avicia will be found guilty. Despite Bishop Odo’s protests, Avicia’s hand begins to heal and she is allowed to leave.

1066 dawns: King Edward dies and Harold becomes king. Edric is now a grandfather and his home is happy, but he is tormented by thoughts of his abandonment of Avicia, who remains at the convent with her daughter. However, she too is haunted by the past and at Alice’s behest, she sets off for England and Saltwood Castle.

Edric joins King Harold in Hastings to repel Duke William of Normandy who has arrived to destroy the Saxon kingdom. The battle is a victory for the Normans, but at a heavy cost to both countries, to Avicia and Edric, as well as the English royals. Will Edric and Avicia find each other again, and will the fates be kind and allow them happiness? Or will they be apart forever?

This Medieval Romance is a story of two lovers separated by fate, wars, loyalties and responsibilities. The inappropriateness of their reunions conspires to separate them even further, though both know there is nothing they want more than to be together. Duty, rage, betrayal and abandonment work against them through their lives, until the final defeat of one king over another offers them a chance.

Ms Yarde has excelled in her debut novel, On Falcon’s Wings by offering a colourful portrayal of Medieval France and England at a time where events change the country forever. Her detailed account of the different factions and the ambitions that resulted in the Norman Conquest is fascinating as well as informative. This book is a must-read for all those who love authentic middle age settings with two star-crossed lovers at its core.