Monday 19 August 2013

Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon

To what can I compare this book?  In terms of the geographical distances travelled by its characters, it’s on a par with Lord of the Rings.  Regarding its depth of historical immersion, it reminded me of the early House of Niccolo novels by Dorothy Dunnett. It’s gritty without being bleak, heroic without being cliché, heartbreaking without being over-emotional and it’s clear that Lyndon loves his subject and, more importantly, respects both his characters and his readers.

The book weigh in at 658 pages, which is about two thirds of the length of LotR. However, such is Lyndon’s skill at bringing his settings to life that I don’t think a single one of those pages was wasted. He knows when to home in on a section of the journey and tease out every last detail of the landscape, the weather and the hazards that his characters face, whilst capable and willing to pull back if the pace of the novel requires it.

The setting is Europe in the year 1072, a scant six years after the Norman Conquest. A knight has been captured by Seljuk Turks at the battle of Manzikert and a message is dispatched to his family in northern England, requesting a ransom for his release. That message starts the Quest itself – to find four rare white gyrfalcons and bring them to Anatolia in a matter of months. We follow Frankish mercenary Vallon and his Sicilian companion Hero as they begin to gather their own fellowship and set off on a journey that will cover thousands of miles and more dangers than you can shake a stick at. In fact, it seems at times as if everything that can happen to them does so; however, Lyndon’s ability to draw sympathetic (if not likeable) characters means that you empathise with their plight, cheer their victories and mourn their losses.

Although my recommendation is (virtually) unreserved, I would add that there are sections that are not for the faint-hearted; Lyndon doesn’t stint on the gore and detail of combat. There was one scene, however, that will reward fans of Monty Python; a character comes within an inch of being disembowelled and then remarks to the character stitching him back together that “it was only a flesh wound”.

The back cover proclaims that this book was ten years in the making; it’s weird to think that I was reading a book that was started when my son was born. I would hazard a guess that a lot of that time was spent on the research, for it absolutely drips period realism without ever overloading the reader. The landscapes were extremely well-described, so much so that I could imagine myself slogging alongside the fellowship on their epic journey.

You may not think that historical novels are for you; perhaps they’re over-detailed or uninteresting, concentrating on the history rather than the characters or plot. Let me assure you that this is not a criticism that can be levelled at Hawk Quest.

Best of all, I hear that Lyndon is now at work on a sequel to this epic tale. When I got that news, I experienced the thrill that a fan of Lord of the Rings might have felt had they learned that Tolkien had started work on a follow-up in the 1960s. I just hope it's not another ten years before I encounter Lyndon's fellowship again.


  1. Thanks, I didn't go far into your review, but I placed a hold on it at my library.

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