‘The Falconer’s Apprentice’ by Malve von Hassell
My rating: 4 out of 5 stars
When Andreas, a falconer’s apprentice at Kragenburg Castle, learns that a young peregrine falcon (Adela) is to be killed for striking out at one of the castle’s young lords, he takes matters into his own hands, smuggling the bird away with him as he makes his own escape hidden in the back of a travelling trader’s cart. So begins a gentle coming of age tale that takes the reader on a journey through some fascinating parts of medieval Germany and Italy as Andreas learns about life and himself. The patient and encouraging support of the trader, Richard, and his daughter, Gemma, give Andreas a new self-confidence and an understanding of what family and friendship mean. But Richard’s lessons go further when he enlists Andreas’ assistance on an espionage adventure that sees the young man liaising with some powerful political figures, including the Emperor Frederic II.
‘The Falconer’s Apprentice’ is a beautifully written and thoroughly researched book, its authentic details evoking the ‘feel’ of life in the Middle Ages. Certainly the historical and political background is there but the author gives just enough insight into this aspect to guide, not overwhelm, the reader. Particularly appealing for me were vivid descriptions of some of the social and cultural features of medieval life, including details of regional food and drink, specialist crafts, and medical practice with its healing herbs and balms. The author weaves all of these strands together within a framework of the art of falconry – a very medieval pursuit. Andreas is a very appealing young protagonist and, while his experiences are not ‘high drama’, they are interesting and varied enough to take young adult readers on an authentic medieval journey of discovery, the vividly drawn details of which will stay with them long after the story is finished.
‘Our Souls at Night’ by Kent Haruf
My rating: 5 of 5 stars
This is a slim novel but within its pages there is a deeply moving story of growing old, of family pressures, and of the power of love at any age. One day, Addie Moore visits her long-time neighbour, Louis, to ask him a surprising question: will he sleep with her every night, no strings attached? And she means “sleep” and nothing else, because Addie is consumed by loneliness since the death of her husband. Louis accepts because, he too has felt the acute loneliness of old age since his wife died.
And so begins a simple but lovely ritual each evening in which the two lie together in bed, talking and holding hands, before they fall asleep. Soon, though, friendship grows and they begin to share walks and picnics and other simple outings; and when Addie’s young grandson is left with her for the summer, Addie and Louis include him in their outings. The daily routine is simply but beautifully drawn and underlines the simplicity and beauty of Addie and Louis’s growing love for each other. Like their relationship, the writing is understated but powerful. The couple waste no time, filling their days with simple joys; and Haruf wastes no words in depicting the deepening relationship as the two come to share insights into their earlier lives, and their joy at finding each other.
The story’s ending may not be as I/readers might/ had hoped, and yet it is the ‘right’ ending, a fine testament to Addie and Louis as believable characters and to the acute sensibilities and skill of their creator. It was to be Haruf’s last work (he died in November 2014 and the novel was published posthumously in 2015) and it is a very fitting legacy.