4 out of 4 stars
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The Falconer’s Apprentice by Malve von Hassell has met all my expectations of a good historical book. The book is well-structured, well-researched and very well-written. It explores the last years of Frederick II as the emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. The time is the middle of the 13th century. The setting is the road from Castle Kragenberg (North Germany) to Castel del Monte (South Italy). Once the great domain, the Holy Roman Empire now suffers from political and social turbulence. People are divided. Some stay loyal to the aging emperor; many want change which they see in Pope and Catholic Church. But the protagonist of The Falconer’s Apprentice is not Frederic II or Pope. We explore real and fictional events through the eyes of Andreas, 13-years old orphan, the falconer’s apprentice.
Count Cuno, the landlord of Castle Kragenberg, is away. In his absence, his teenage son Ethelbert invites some noble neighbours for hunting with falcons. Andreas is helping Oswald, the falconer, to prepare the birds. Adela is a beautiful falcon but she still is very young and a little inexperienced. She ignores Ethelbert`s orders and goes for her own prey. Annoyed by her behaviour, angry Ethelbert pulls on Adela`s rope too forcefully. Upset and confused, Adela scratches his lordship’s face. In a rage, Ethelbert orders Oswald to destroy the bird. Young Andreas, who adores Adela and who witnessed the incident, is desperate to save her life. When Richard, the trader, comes to the castle, Andreas takes it as his only opportunity to find a better life for himself and Adela.
So Andreas`s journey, both physical and emotional, begins in the trader`s cart. He passes the mountains and the sea. He meets people, good and bad. He celebrates the St Valentine’s Day (I was fascinated how little the celebration had changed since the medieval time). He even meets the emperor himself. On the road, Andreas gains knowledge of the complexity of political and social life in the 13th century Europe. As they continue to travel, he finds out that Richard is not an ordinary trader, but he has another, very important mission – the trader gathers information for the emperor. Andreas`s development as a character is shown in a very subtle and gentle way. The boy is not fighting or chasing, or winning in a big battle. He is rather an observer, but very thoughtful and reflective observer. But by the end of the book, Andreas is not a naïve boy anymore. He is still kind and caring, but in a different, grown-up way.
I liked how Hassell has structured the book. The Falconer’s Apprentice is organised into eight parts, each of them preceded by a paragraph from the real book written by FredericK II on falconry. That rhythmic structure mirrors the steady tempo of the road journey. I think it was a very clever idea. Hassell chose paragraphs from The Art of Falconry which were beautiful on their own, but they also became extended metaphors to the themes of the following chapters of her book. That was another clever idea to write a book.
I am delighted to say that I could not find any faults within the book. Andreas seemed a very likable character, yet Malve von Hassell had never presented him in a didactic, finger-pointing way. And therefore Andreas looked both as a character from the distant history and as a very modern boy. I think he could be an inspiration for modern teenagers - how to pursue their dream whatever the dream could be. I would strongly recommend The Falconer’s Apprentice for wide readership, particularly for young adults who are interested in history. With great pleasure, I give The Falconer’s Apprentice four out of four stars.
The Falconer's Apprentice
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