The Faithless Hawk, Margaret Owen (Henry Holt 978-1-250-19194-6, $18.99, 400pp, hc) August 2020.
In her sequel to The Merciful Crow, Margaret Owen returns to the kingdom of Sabor and the new chaos created by the sudden death/murder of their cruel but powerful king. The Faithless Hawk includes all of the characters from the first book but increases the action and adds some major royal intrigue as the battle for the throne between Prince Jasimir and his thoroughly diabolical stepmother moves to center stage. The plague is moving across the land, the queen is intent on cementing her position by turning the people against each other, and one of our heroes appears to have given up. There is barely a moment’s relief in this novel, which is a good thing as all that action draws the characters to an enormously satisfying ending. You must read the two books in order and, as it is impossible to review The Faithless Hawk without some serious reveals about The Merciful Crow, consider this your spoiler warning for the next few paragraphs!
When we last left our merry band, the prince and his illegitimate brother/body guard, Tavin, had been delivered to safety and Fie, now chieftain of a band of Crows, was setting out to deal with plague outbreaks. As the only caste in Sabor immune to the deadly sickness, Crows earn their living by not only providing a merciful end to the dying, but also burning the bodies to mitigate spread of the disease. The moment the king dies however, Queen Rhusana insists that the plague does not require Crow attention and that, indeed, Crows have been taking advantage of the populace for years. As the Crows seek shelter from bands of their murderous countrymen, the plague spreads rapidly without their attention. Unrest is exactly what Queen Rhusana has sought, and she gets it – a lot of it. In chaos, a dominant leader finds few opponents and Rhusana thrives on chaos. Whether or not author Owen is making a point here about America’s own recent political and social struggles is only for her to say, but for the people of Sabor it’s a terrible scene and Fie, Jasimir, and Tavin are right in the middle of it.
The Faithless Hawk is an outstanding pair with The Merciful Crow, and both books should not be missed. They include compelling characters, a rousing romance, intense political machinations, and a lot of social questions to consider. The magic is unique, the intrigue first rate and the angst – oh the angst in this novel! – is pitch perfect. I love a page-turning fantasy that also makes me think, and Owen has accomplished that here and then some. If you want a world that is equal measure heartbreak and cheer-worthy, then reach for these two titles; you won’t regret it.
Colleen Mondor, Contributing Editor, is a writer, historian, and reviewer who co-owns an aircraft leasing company with her husband. She is the author of “The Map of My Dead Pilots: The Dangerous Game of Flying in Alaska” and reviews regularly for the ALA’s Booklist. Currently at work on a book about the 1932 Mt. McKinley Cosmic Ray Expedition, she and her family reside in the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. More info can be found on her website: www.colleenmondor.com.
This review and more like it in the October 2020 issue of Locus.
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