The Falconer (The Falconer #1) by Elizabeth May
Genre: Young adult fantasy
Publisher: Chronicle Books
Release date: May 6 2014
Source: e-ARC from publisher via Edelweiss
The nitty-gritty: An irresistible mix of steampunk and Scottish faery lore, a feisty heroine with depth, a yummy male love interest, just enough violence for the boys, and just enough romance for the girls.
I’m about to double back to the gardens when the full taste of the faery’s power hits me. My head snaps up and I briefly savor the sensation. Honey and dirt and pure nature, a thousand flavors that are difficult to describe. The taste of the wild—running through trees with wind in my hair as my feet pound soft dirt. The sea on a misty morning, with sand and water swirling around my legs. A taste that conjures images that look real and significant. There is only one faery I’ve ever met with that signature.
The title of this blog post sums it up: Aileana is Buffy, except she’s Scottish and she kills faeries instead of vampires. Kiaran is Angel, but he’s actually more like Angelus, the bad Angel. (Apologies to those of you who are going “Huh?” right now.) In addition to all that Buffy goodness, May has the language of Austen down pat, and she somehow manages to add sprinklings of steampunk elements to the mix. And the entire thing works, believe it or not. I had the best time reading The Falconer, and if I could sum up this book in one word, it would be “charming.” Aileana’s first person voice was charming, May’s unique Scottish/Steampunk/fantasy world was charming, and the growing romance between faery killer Aileana and her bad boy faery mentor Kiaran was, yes, charming! In many ways this book reminded me of my reading experience with Stolen Songbird, two cases where the authors just got it right. They managed to pull all sorts of elements together in just the right way, and because of this, their books stand out from the crowd. (Although what’s up with the cliffhangers, ladies?? More about that later…)
We meet Aileana Kameron at a party straight out of Pride and Prejudice, as she is trying to blend in with the other girls her age, while stalking and killing an evil faery before he attacks. She is a Falconer, the last in a line of faery killers, and she’s out to avenge her mother’s death by hunting down the faery that killed her. But Aileana’s life is complicated by many things, including a father who wants to marry her off as quickly as possible, a faery named Kiaran who saved her life and now trains her to kill other faeries, and an annoying yet lovable pixie named Derrick who lives in her closet and mends her clothes.
But when a mystical seal that is preventing faeries from spilling out into this world begins to weaken, it’s up to Aileana to fix it, and she only has six days to do so. It’s a race against the clock as she tries to stop the end of the world, kill her mother’s murderer, and try to keep her secret life secret, all while battling her growing feelings for a decidedly improper man who just happens to be a faery himself. It is any wonder she’s exhausted?
The faeries in The Falconer are not of the Tinkerbell variety at all. They are vicious, evil creatures who come in all shapes and sizes and whose sole purpose is to kill humans and absorb their life energy. Most of them have long pointy teeth that can rip out your throat in an instant, as well as all manner of disgusting facial features that put them firmly in the “monster” category. And there is certainly no shortage of blood in this book. May’s fight scenes are almost gleefully violent and bloody, and Aileana spends most of the story trying to recover from one injury or another. I loved that one moment Aileana is a proper young lady in a billowing ball gown, and the next she’s ripping off her skirts to go chase after faeries.
At first I was a bit thrown by the steampunk bits, but May made them work. In addition to everything else Aileana is doing, she is also an inventor, and she spends her free time tinkering with mechanical devices to make weapons. I especially loved her flying machine, an odd contraption like a flying car that resembles a large bat as it flaps through the skies. I know what you’re thinking: Flying cars? Swords? Magical faery realms? High society? How could all these things fit into one story? Trust me, they do.
May incorporates the Scottish element by throwing in lots of terms from Scottish mythology, like the types of faeries that Aileana hunts. She clearly did lots of research, and even though I couldn’t begin to pronounce terms like baobhan sith or sgian dubh, I didn’t mind because they made the story that much more authentic.
But even though I loved May’s unique world-building, it was the characters that really stood out for me. I adored Aileana’s grit and sass, but I have to admit that her pixie friend Derrick was the character who stole my heart. He was like a male Tinkerbell who is loyal to his mistress but gets drunk when he eats too much honey. I mean, who wouldn’t want their own Derrick sitting on their shoulder, invisible to everyone else?
Yes, there is a romance in this story, because hey, it’s young adult. But I loved the subtle way the author handled it, and I’ve never said this in a review before, but I completely shipped Kiaran and Aileana. Kiaran is a delightful blend of bad-ass/dangerous/mysterious/loyal/protective/gorgeous, and I knew the moment he walked onto the page that I was going to love him.
Other reviewers have complained about the cliffhanger ending, and I’m no exception. It does end abruptly and right in the middle of the action, leaving us to wonder how on earth our characters will survive long enough to make it into book two. But other than that, and a few too many instances of Aileana biting her tongue (I actually started highlighting them because she does it so often!), there is little not to like in The Falconer. May’s writing is polished and practically dances across the page, and I fear it’s going to be a long wait for the next book in the series. Until then, watch your back and don’t get lured by a faery who may be after your life energy. And why don’t you read this book while you’re waiting? Please excuse me while I go binge-watch my Buffy DVDs…Highly recommended!
Big thanks to the publisher for supplying a review copy. The above quote was taken from an uncorrected proof and may differ from the finished version.
Find The Falconer here: