Sunday, August 19, 2007

The Red Falcons of Tremoine -- An excellent story for younger readers

Poor Leo lived as an orphan in the care of St. Michael's Abbey. As far as he knew, he had no relations in this world and no family name. He was mocked by the other boys at St. Michael's for his apparently low birth, and his rebellious nature attracted the frequent reproofs of the his guardians, the monks. But the abbot held a secret that no one else knew--that 15-year-old Leo is the legitimate offspring of an ill-fated couple who married in secret because their families were feuding. As such, Leo is the heir of two baronies--Wardlock and Tremoine--both of which remain locked in a bitter grudge.

The Red Falcons of Tremoine is the story of how young Leo becomes aware of his parentage and his subsequent struggle as a bone of contention between his father's family at Wardlock and his mother's family at Tremoine. His humble and elderly grandfather, Maurice of Wardlock, embraces Leo and takes him in as his heir. But the scheming and violent Rolf of Tremoine wants his nephew for his own heir is is willing to go to any length to achieve that end.

The Red Falcons of Tremoine starts out slow, but the persevering reader is well rewarded. The characters are very well drawn, and the action is brisk and in no way predictible--until near the end. I particularly enjoyed the complex character of Rainald, the cold but loyal squire of Baron Rolf. Leo is also an excellent character--good hearted, spirited, and honest, but by no means perfect. Baron Rolf is an exceptional villain whose motivations and internal anguish are made clear. While he is somewhat sympathetic in his complexity, the author by no means excuses the wicked things he does and he comes off as more of a tragic figure, rather than truly evil.

I would heartily recommend this book to older kids above the age of 11 or so. Parents will likely enjoy reading along themselves. The author's historical knowledge is good and one really gets a feel for the life and times of 12th century England. If this kind of excellent historical fiction appeals to you, I would recommend Belisarius: The First Shall Be Last and Big John's Secret (Living History Library) as well.

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