Title: The Falconer’s Apprentice
Author: Malve von Hassell
Genre: YA / Historical fiction
The Falconer’s Apprentice is a coming-of-age novel that follows the journey of a young man named Andreas, who has only known life inside the walls of Castle Kragenberg as an apprentice to a falconer. When a falcon named Adela is mistreated by the count’s son, Andreas makes the first major decision for himself in his life by choosing to protect the bird by leaving with her and transporting her somewhere safe. When Andreas joins traveling merchant Richard on the road, Andreas’s small world grows as his eyes are opened to bigger issues in the Holy Roman Empire in the thirteenth century.
The author’s easy-to-read narrative and clear voice lend well to this novel’s target audience. Add to it the fact that the protagonist is a young man who’s just discovering the world beyond what he’s known for the first time and this story is a good one for young adults. Even though the setting is a completely different time and place from what we experience now, Andreas is relatable. The coming-of-age theme is one that never grows old and can be presented again and again in a variety of ways. Von Hassell’s choice to tell this type of story is a smart one that has the potential to make The Falconer’s Apprentice just as meaningful and relevant in fifty or a hundred years as it is today.
Von Hassell has done a sufficient and believable job in world-building, recreating thirteenth-century Germany and Italy. The details of medieval medicine, who was emperor at the time, and the political factions and regions of unrest are all well-researched. She includes a list of additional reading at the back of the book, as well as notes on her research, which can enrich the reader’s experience if interested in knowing more. Besides the research needed to recreate thirteenth-century Europe, the author gives extensive details on falconry, providing the reader with rare knowledge through fiction that is didactic and entertaining.
Although the author’s theme and research are strong, the characters could have used more depth. Just because a story is aimed at young adults doesn’t mean the characters can’t be complex. Oftentimes, von Hassell tells the reader how a certain character is feeling or what their motives are instead of showing. There are missed opportunities to explore the rich detail behind why Andreas feels the need to leave behind everything he’s ever known, for example, and to experience his inner struggle as he wrestles with the comfort of where he’s been with the uncertainty of where he’s going. While Andreas’s eyes are opened to a bigger world beyond his childhood home and trying to find his place in that world, the choices he ultimately makes feel a bit rushed to be completely believable and have the feel of having been written in a sudden manner as a means of ending the story, perhaps prematurely.
The Falconer’s Apprentice provides its readers with a timeless theme of coming-of-age that will resonate with many readers for years to come. Its suggested target audience of young adults will likely relate to the protagonist as he makes his way in the world. We all wish to have a greater purpose in life, and von Hassell’s novel touches on that idea in a thought-provoking manner.
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