A Falcon's Heart
by Jayel Wylie, historical (2001)
Sonnet, $6.50, ISBN 0-7434-1839-5


They should make it a rule for authors, published or unpublished: Good critique partners let not their partners do Big Misunderstandings. In the hands of an inexperienced author, no matter how much feel of history her book has, no matter how likeable her characters are, the misunderstanding thing has a tendency to spiral out of control, bring out the worst from and hence negate all that's good previously about her characters, and make the whole issue of hitherto trust/love irrelevant and superficial.

Needless to say, A Falcon's Heart never recovers from its ill-advised inclusion of a big misunderstanding issue. Unless I'm greatly mistaken, this is Jayel Wylie's debut, and she has almost everything right: a heroine who behaves like a lady she is raised to be, enough but not too much history (this story is set in the early days of King Henry's reign, around the early 12th century) to give it some "feel", and a decent plot that later derails completely though. The hero... well, he's not too smart, but I guess the euphemism here is "historically accurate".

William, our historically accurate knight in a dunce cap, is very angry because, boo-hoo, he has no lands to crap on. But when the lord of Brinlaw dies under sssshhh-so-suspicious circumstances, King Henry decides to give Willy the lands. Willy encounters the dead lord's daughter, Alista, and decides to go ahead with a bluff: he tells Alista that her father arranged the wedding between Willy and her, so let's get to business and hire a preacher.

Alista, naturally, is a bit confused and not at all ready to accept this abrupt shift from funeral to nupital. But for the sake of her people, she relents. And so they marry, and they will be merry were not for bumpy roads ahead: Willy is accused of murdering her father, and another man (who, of course, has to be the bad guy in the end) sniffs around Alista's hindquarters, driving Willy to Angry Jealousy and hence Stupid Misunderstandings.

Alista is a good heroine, and she really doesn't let Willy walk all over her. She even delivers several good scatching speeches to our stupid alpha brute here. But Willy just doesn't listen. He's not even reasonable - he has the right to lie to the heroine, it seems, but it doesn't work the other way around. Historical accuracy my bum, I'm going to lace this silly oaf's drink with laxatives.

And the author doesn't actually take the time to show me why these two are in love, relying instead on vague and even inexplicable "She loves him, she does, even though he treats her like smelly dung, she does love him!" reaffirmations to justify the relationship. And of course, don't forget the heroine's older woman friend who, no matter how Willy just craps all over Alista, insists to Alista that he cares, he really cares. With friends like this, who needs car accidents?

A Falcon's Heart is also not without some obvious, even corny "deep metaphors" about falcon flying free and our hearts flying free (or something like that), done with even less subtlety than a Yanni music CD. But towards the end, things get much more better as the bad guy starts to act and our bickering twosome is forced to do something more productive other than yelling at each other.

This book promises more than it can deliver. Characterization could be improved, and the misunderstandings have to go (or at least kept in the backburners until the author has gotten the character consistency thing right). But A Falcon's Heart is mostly a very readable read, its rough edges notwithstanding, and I look forward to see what Jayel Wylie will come out with next.

Rating: 74


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