Author: Malve von Hassell
Book title: The Falconer’s Apprentice
Genre: Historical fiction, YA
Publish date: February 1, 2015
The Falconer’s Apprentice tells the tale of an adventuresome 15-year old orphan, who embarks on a precipitous flight across Europe to rescue the falcon Adela.
A crotchety falconer, a secretive trader and his feisty daughter, a mysterious hermit, a young king in prison, an aging emperor, and an irascible Arab physician are among the principal characters in this action/adventure novel, set in the 13th century. Written for readers age twelve and above, this coming-of-age story conveys life in medieval Europe, with bedbugs next to silver chalices, food ranging from the moldy to the sublime, and intellectual sophistication side by side with rank superstitions.
Original poetry by King Enzio, imprisoned in Bologna, and writings about falconry by Emperor Frederick II of Hohenstaufen are incorporated into the novel. The eight parts of the novel reflect the eight octagonal towers of the Castel del Monte, a critical turning point in the protagonist’s life.
Andreas watched Ethelbert out of the corner of his eye. The tall lanky boy was mean and unpredictable. However, the first half hour went by without any mishaps. The goshawk, flying fast and low to the ground, caught a partridge that the dogs had chased out the bushes. Pleased with his success, Ethelbert acquitted himself well, feeding the bird without prompting by Oswald. Now he wanted to fly the young peregrine.
The hounds moved closer to the swamp, sniffing the ground and momentarily quiet in their intent search for prey. Peering between the men standing around, Andreas saw the grey and white feathers of a heron in the reeds.
Oswald brought Adela over to Ethelbert. “Here she is, my lord. Give her time to settle.”
Ethelbert scowled. Andreas was not surprised when he did not heed Oswald’s advice. He pulled off the peregrine’s hood abruptly. Without waiting for the dogs to flush out the heron, he raised his arm and pushed Adela into the air. The young falcon wobbled before she caught herself; then she flew swiftly upward before banking sharply to the left. She had her eye on another prey—a young hare in the grass near a clump of brambleberry bushes, munching clover and oblivious to its surroundings. Adela swooped down and fell on the hare. The heron lifted off, sailing away over the swamp.
Ethelbert cursed. Impatiently he brushed past Andreas, standing close by with Adela’s basket. The falcon was intent on the hare and did not move when Ethelbert reached her. He threw the carcass of the hare into the weeds and seized Adela roughly by her jesses. Before she could settle on his arm, Ethelbert tried to force the hood on her head. Frustrated and frightened, Adela moved violently and scraped Ethelbert’s cheek with one of her talons. Ethelbert yelped and shook her off. She landed hard on the ground and lay there as if stunned.
Andreas reacted without thinking. Afraid for Adela, he rushed forward and turned the basket directly over her like a sheltering tent.
“Well done,” Oswald said quietly. He had moved with a speed that belied his years and was already next to Andreas. He reached underneath the makeshift shelter and grabbed the falcon’s jesses. Andreas upended the basket. Oswald fed the agitated bird a piece of meat, gently slipped the hood over her head, and placed her into the basket. Andreas immediately closed the cover.
“That bird should be destroyed! Take it away!” Ethelbert yelled.
Andreas tightened his grip on the basket. The other members of the hunt party had fallen silent. Lady Bertha had an expression of polite indifference on her face; after a moment, she turned to check her horse’s harness.
Malve von Hassell is a freelance writer, researcher, and translator and holds a Ph.D. in anthropology from the New School for Social Research. Working as an independent scholar, she published The Struggle for Eden: Community Gardens in New York City (Bergin & Garvey 2002) and Homesteading in New York City 1978-1993: The Divided Heart of Loisaida (Bergin & Garvey 1996).
She has also edited her grandfather Ulrich von Hassell’s memoirs written in prison in 1944, Der Kreis schließt sich – Aufzeichnungen aus der Haft 1944 (Propylaen Verlag 1994). She has self-published a children’s picture book, Letters from the Tooth Fairy (Mill City Press, 2012) and her translation and annotation of a German children’s classic by Tamara Ramsay, Rennefarre: Dott’s Wonderful Travels and Adventures (Two Harbors Press, 2012). The Falconer’s Apprentice (namelos, 2015) was her first historical fiction novel for young adults.
There are two forthcoming historical fiction novels, one set in Jerusalem in the time of the crusades, Alina: A Song for the Telling (BHC Press, 2020), and one set in Germany in 1645 and 1945, The Amber Crane (Odyssey Books, 2020). Currently, she is working on a biographical work about a woman coming of age in Nazi Germany.