This is without doubt a big, glorious, involving book. One you can get totally lost in.
It’s a rich, twisting, and thoroughly absorbing tale. One that travels through Spain, France, England, Iceland, Greenland, Norway, Finland (I think), what is now Russia and all the way down the rivers and rapids to Constantinople. Whilst the cover says it is a novel of the Norman Conquests, it isn’t – as such. I’d say it is fundamentally a journey through the world as known by later period Vikings.
Personally, had I been the author, I’d have argued against (presumably) the Marketing Department’s suggestion of putting ‘An epic novel of the Norman Conquests’ on the front cover. Yes, there are Normans in it – and they are of course bad – and it takes place in the period shortly after the conquest of England, but if you’re looking for a Sworn Sword or another Hereward, you’ll be better looking elsewhere. It is at least an epic, that bit’s spot on.
It just goes to show how hard it is to pin down what this multi-faceted book actually is. On the face of it, it’s a reasonably simple tale. An Arabic leader demands a ransom for a Norman knight he holds. Money, lots of it, or four rare, snow-white hunting hawks. From the title of the book, you can perhaps guess which option they decide upon.
A motley band of adventurers come together through accident and circumstance and proceed try to to carry out the quest of the title and the book is their adventures along the way. Vallon is a Frankish knight on his way back from being held captive by the Moors in Spain, when he runs into Hero, a young Sicilian scholar travelling with his master and teacher. The old Arab is dying, but has the details of the ransom wanted for a captured Norman knight out in the Middle East. The journey goes to England, where they meet up with a wild kind of woodland-dwelling outcast boy, called Wayland. Handily, he is an expert when it comes to handling Hawks. They are effectively chased out of England and travel to Iceland, then Greenland after the Hawks they need. They collect other adventurers on the way and are pursued by all manner of Normans, Icelanders and on the ‘return’ journey through Norway and Russia, by Vikings and marauding Steppe nomads.
Whilst Vallon is the leader of the group, the most interesting character, perhaps not surprisingly given the author’s background, is young Wayland. The author is a falconer and Wayland is the character in the book who hunts, captures and cares for the hawks of the book’s title. Passages describing him, and his adventures in the countryside – both fighting, protecting his comrades and capturing the Hawks – are superb. Robert Lyndon really brings the wildlife, forests and countryside of 11th Century Europe vividly to life. You can almost smell it!
There’s a little and a lot of everything here (well over 600 pages in the hardback version I have, so lord only knows how many it’ll have when it comes out in paperback). But whilst it is a long story, it’s one that is constantly moving, action-packed and manages to stay focused the whole way through.
So while it is a quest and it is set in the (in England anyway) Norman period, it isn’t a novel of the Norman conquests. Vikings are in it, but it isn’t a Viking novel. It’s a quest, a long involved one at that, but it isn’t ‘Lord of the Rings’. Maybe it’s just written for the love of it. Yes, that must be it. Stop trying to sort out what it is or isn’t, Steve. Stop over analysing and enjoy – is what I told myself about a third of the way in. And enjoy it I did, very much indeed.