The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman

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The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman

Category: Teens
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: Pacy but interesting murder mystery come comedy of manners ideal for any keen readers of ten to mid teens. It's unpretentiously plot driven, but there is also a wealth of accurate and vital historical detail.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 304 Date: April 2008
Publisher: Bloomsbury Publishing PLC
ISBN: 0747589003

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Umbria, 1316.

Silvano has been falsely accused of murdering a merchant; the husband of the woman he admires. While his father attempts to find the true culprit, Silvano is packed off to sanctuary in a Franciscan friary in the guise of a novice monk. Chiara's father has died recently and her brother has no money with which to provide a dowry. So Chiara is packed off to a convent, to become a sister of the Poor Clares. Neither teenager has a religious vocation and both dread the cloistered, suffocating life of a religious.

And no sooner do they arrive, than the murders begin. If Silvano isn't careful, he will take the blame for more than the killing of a love rival.

I am sure the fad for historical crime fiction hasn't passed you by. It's been filtering into the children's market for a little while now, but The Falconer's Knot has had more publicity than most. It's not surprising. It successfully treads a fairly delicate line between light, plot-driven fiction and an issue-based, educational heavyweight. It doesn't have a great deal of pyschological depth - there's a sweet teenage love story, some loving parents, some greedy male relatives, some kindly priests and nuns and other suchlikes. It's as much a romance as it is a crime novel.

However, the writing is deceptively clever. It's pacy and tense, easy to read, but the style is elegant and precise and a wealth of historical detail is seamlessly woven into the narrative without a trace of exposition. When they've finished reading The Falconer's Knot, they'll have a good grounding in the social milieu of fourteenth century Italy - the class structure and the status of women in particular. They'll also have a good grasp of the importance of art and religion and the connection between them.

Both friary and convent in the book mix pigments for the fresco artists of the day - one of the characters, Simone Martini, was a real artist, who painted the frescoes in the Chapel of St Martin in Assissi - and the scenes in the "colour rooms" are incredibly vivid as the monks and nuns toil painstakingly to make colours with wonderful names - dragon's blood, ultramarine, azurite, king's yellow. Stories behind the frescoes themselves add depth, as do the cameo portraits of the artists.

The book is also a comedy of manners straight out of Shakespeare. Everyone ends up with the right partner at the end. I did enjoy The Falconer's Knot. It's light but intelligent and tremendous fun to read. Recommended for all junior history buffs aged ten to about fourteen.

My thanks to the good people at Bloomsbury for sending the book.

The Falconer's Knot's younger readers might also enjoy Orphan of the Sun by Gill Harvey, a murder mystery set in Ancient Egypt. Anyone interested in the medieval period would love Elizabeth Laird's Crusade.

Buy The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman at Amazon.co.uk.


Buy The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman at Amazon You can read more book reviews or buy The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman at Amazon.com.


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