Hawk Quest, by Robert Lyndon
Despite the headlines on the cover Hawk Quest is not an Epic Novel of the Norman Conquests. Instead it’s a wide-ranging epic novel set in the post-Conquest Europe of the early 1070’s. And, despite the effusive praise festooning both front and back covers, its a truly first-rate adventure novel.
Walter son of Olbec had been captured by Suleymen at the battle of Manzikert, the battle in 1071 that marked the beginning of the end of the Byzantine empire and the rise of the Seljuk Turks. A ransom was demanded: enough gold to buy a small country or, four pure-white gyrfalcons. Either one pretty much impossible. Vallon, a mercenary Frankish knight succeeded in delivering that ransom demand to Olbec in Northumbria, close to Hadrian’s wall.
Sir Walter’s brother Drogo was not best pleased to discover his elder brother was alive and well. He would happily have shot the messenger, beheaded the messenger, hung, drawn and quartered the messenger. Bang goes the inheritance. To his fury Vallon promptly accepted the commission to obtain the falcons and deliver them to Suleyman.
What follows is an epic quest first to catch the birds in some terrifying scenes high on ice-packed cliffs in Greenland and then to deliver them to Suleyman in Konya on the opposite side of Europe. Human nature being what it is many of the people on the way are quite keen to relieve the party of their money, goods, falcons and lives. On the whole they’re quite successful in doing just that, too.
Along with the fast pace and constant action the historic context is excellent yet unobtrusive, enhancing the plot without slowing with it. Lyndon’s keen interest in falconry is revealed many times, most especially in the training and flying of one of the birds where you can start to understand why falconry was so popular in mediaeval times.
The killer blow in this remarkable first novel comes in the final pages. When Vallon first decided to deliver the ransom note it was clear that the dying cleric he’d encountered had another, ulterior, motive. What that motive was and what impact it would have on eleventh century Christianity is only unveiled in the last few pages.
Sadly this looks like a one-off rather than the start of a series. But we can still hope! Highly, highly recommended.