After seeing this trilogy pop up over and over on Christine’s Bookstagram, always with super positive reviews, I decided to add them to my (insanely long) TBR list. After following her for awhile, I noticed we had generally similar taste in books and I too have a great big soft spot for Scotland and Scottish faerie tales (perhaps mine is not quite as big, but it’s pretty solidly there). So when Kori posted about a giveway for the first two, I jumped on it. And, in a super exciting turn of events – I won! (My first ever bookstagram giveaway win – woohoo!) Naturally, I bought the third one immediately and read the entire trilogy in about a week. 🙂
*Since I’m reviewing all three books in the same post, this may get a little long, but I like having them all together rather than spread out between other books/posts. I apologize in advance for my need for that type of “post cohesiveness…” Also, I did my best to avoid major spoilers, but still be cautious if you plan to read this whole post before starting any of the books (note: the review for book 3 is where it gets super borderline).*
One more thing (since it’s multiple books being reviewed I think it’s only fair to start with this as full disclosure) – this trilogy gets better as it goes. I gave the first book 3/5 stars, the second and third 4/5, and overall it’s a definite 4/5 trilogy.
The Falconer Trilogy by Elizabeth May
“Maybe the price of saving the world is forgetting how to live in it.”
“This was a really solid first book. To be fair, as I mentioned, I have a soft spot for Scotland and Scottish lore, so the setting and faerie names/types were all just really up my alley. I may be bias on everything else as a result of that. Regardless, I love Aileana as a main character, she’s tough and vulnerable at the same time – wanting to prove herself but also having a hard time fully cutting ties with the “proper” life she led before everything changed. No worries about spoilers because this is revealed early: everything changed when her mother was murdered by a faerie (which are considered either extinct or myth by the majority of the population) and Aileana met Kiaran, a faerie who helped hone her need for revenge and trained her to kill faeries. I think Kiaran’s character is pretty well written as well. For a faerie who’s been alive for thousands of years, he has a reasonably complicated history that is only slowly revealed and the suspense in finding things out (like why is he helping train Aileana to kill his own kind??) is well drawn out. I’m definitely excited to learn more about him as the story continues. Also, I love Derrick – the pixie who lives in Aileana’s closet, mends her dresses, and is obsessed with honey. I definitely wish I had one of him in my own life. I can’t decide how I feel about the “steampunk” aspect – Aileana’s ability to quickly invent/build weapons and flying contraptions and things. It’s a really cool addition that makes this story a little different from the many like it, and I do love the steampunk subculture, but I have yet to decide if it actually fits well in this story or not. Plot-wise, the pacing is well done and the story is developed nicely. Even though it’s nothing super original, it’s really easy and entertaining to read.
A couple things did bother me though. First, the writing itself was borderline. There were times where Aileana’s inner thoughts made me cringe a bit. I mean, I understand her conflicts (mentioned earlier) and respect that as a YA heroine, she may not be the most confident and self-aware character ever. But I do think that there were some thoughts she had that confused me, like at the end when she talks about not being “worthy” to carry her mother’s tartan with her. Like what the heck? Her mother wasn’t a warrior or anything, and she’d just have it as a momento/memory, so how can a person be worthy (or not) of carrying a remembrance of a loved one? Just…a few odd moments like that made me scrunch up my brow and prevent the flow of the story from being completely seamless. Also, although I like both Kiaran and Aileana, I think the way their relationship is written takes advantage of many other similarly written relationships. As a reader, you have suspicions and hopes because of what similar things you’ve read in the past, I think, and not necessarily because this one is written particularly well. For me, I feel like this is very similar to Aelin and Rowan in Maas’ Throne of Glass series, but not as well developed. However, because of having read Aelin and Rowan, I’m assigning similar development to Kiaran and Aileana in my head, and May benefits from that. I don’t know if that makes sense to anyone else, but that’s what’s happening in my head. Haha. Also, as I usually find in books where there is a proper “public” figure who has a secret pastime (killing faeries, in this case), there are lots of plot holes that arise – like how does one stay up all night fighting and then process normally at all the next day? Plus, for their friends, like Catherine in this case, I feel like they get written very shallowly, just to fill a necessary public figure role and generally “all supportive” sidekick place, that just rings a little false. Gavin is partially like that here, but he has much more potential and I cannot wait to see where his story goes. And, conveniently, Aileana’s one surviving parent is often absent, which at least makes that less of a possible plot hole.
In any case, the action was consistent and the ending left us with a serious cliffhanger (both relationship and plot-line wise), so thank goodness I waited to start this until all three books were out! I definitely enjoyed this read and cannot wait to jump into the next one.”
“Although this book started a little bit slower, once it got going it totally made up for that. This was a great second book, moving the story forward on many levels without hitting a lot of contrived snags.
Character wise, I thought there was some solid development. Aileana’s story was one of great growth here. She learned lots of information about herself, and others, and (though it was still done in the slightly immature way of an 18-ish year old) processed it reasonably and, I felt, truthfully to her character. And of course Kiaran. What we learn about him and his past, and how he slowly opens up with Aileana, is also very true to his character. I think their relationship unfolds with perfect timing (the right mix of hope, apprehension, and impatience) and is handled maturely, and realistically within their world(s). The small things are well done – I smile-snorted (I love when I have that reaction) when she told him to ‘hold back the sea’ and he looked at her in a kind of disbelief and said “Just hold back the sea, she says.” Speaking from experience here, it’s pretty spot on banter for a real couple. Plus, I love that he, and he alone, calls her Kam; like, I love it a lot. Aithinne is fantastic, both hard and soft, plus a little crazy, I really enjoyed her. And what we learn about her and Kiaran, and their past interactions with Kadamach, are one of the most impressive parts of this book. I thought the background building, the reveals that we get along with Aileana, are well written and thought out. In addition, it’s a very compelling rendition of popular lore on the divisions between the Seelie and Unseelie fae kingdoms. Derrick is still just fun, but we did get a little more depth of his story as well. Catherine and Gavin both move forwards a bit, but are generally the biggest disappointments of this installment, I think. They, and few of the other new “human” additions, remain fairly two-dimensional supporting cast.
There are still a few things stylistically that bother me, like some of Ailenana’s inner thoughts, the repetition there, etc. I think it’s not entirely unrealistic, but I don’t enjoy reading it. It’s a lot of dwelling. And while I understand the guilt she carries now, I still don’t understand the longer standing feeling of ‘unworthiness’ that she has. Generally, I liked how her time with Lonnrach, though horrible, helped her get over the smaller view of her mother’s death as her motivating factor – that truly would have been a weak foundation for the entirety of the trilogy, although it was a perfect starting point. Additionally, Aileana may have a slightly unrealistic penchant for coming back to life, but I guess within the confines of the story, it’s necessary and, in fact, the author recognizes it outright at one point, so that helped take off some of the pressure (credit there).
I’m excited for the final piece of the story. The twist at the end with the Cailleach was well played, if not slightly predictable, and I’m interested to see what changes are in store for Aileana now (physically, magically, etc.) and what will happen with Kiaran’s “shift,” if you will, at the end. Though the writing is smooth, it’s nothing exceptional and normally I would have continued my 3-star rating from the first book here, if not for how very well crafted the story was. I didn’t have to struggle through awkward second book relationship issues or contrived plot devices to make a second book necessary between the opening and concluding pieces of the story. Like I said, the pacing and delivery of information, as well as the pacing in character development for our main characters, has been parceled fantastically throughout these first two books. That steady, even flow, combined with how well thought out the storyline clearly is, really bumped this second book up for me. And FYI, yikes cliffhanger ending!”
“That was a non-stop conclusion. With the majority of the exposition having already been taken care of in books 1 and 2, May was able to really take us for a ride in this last installment. It was so hard to put this book down because I felt like I was always in the middle of reading something super important. Phew.
Character-wise, the final development for our hero and heroine was spectacular. Aileana really fought through all her issues with desperation and skirting the line of ruthlessness, going “too far” a few times, but in the end finding the balance she needed. Plus, the true lie to Kiaran at the end. Gorgeously pulled off. And my poor heart. UGH. Kiaran, of course, really saw a lot of change here – fighting to fully control his darker side for real, making selfless decisions (for the first time), and really just proving his own Unseelie redeemability, despite everything. He’s the poster boy for second chances. The winner for story development has to go to Sorcha though. What we learn about her is eye-opening and, honestly, heartbreaking. She is the embodiment of Aileana’s “dark side,” if you will, and it’s not hard to imagine, at times, that with just a few different decisions, Aileana would have been just like her. In fact, at times she was just like her. But learning how she got to that point, how many years she suffered in so many different ways, why she feels the way she does about Kadamach, you have to wonder if Aileana wouldn’t have ended up in the same place after all that too. Sorcha is a character that got deeper and deeper with each book and, in a way that emulates Snape’s story (in Harry Potter, just in case you didn’t catch that), we really see how much there is under the surface. What she really means when she stops Aileana sacrificial train of thought by saying “He deserves better than this.” is everything. Truly she is the most nuanced character in the bunch – I really enjoyed her. Aithinne was lovely as always, the right female lead for her role, but not much in the way of growth for her here. And, as always, the extra human characters just seemed like afterthoughts (like Gavin, the way his story ends by not really ending in the way everyone else’s does – poor guy – it’s like everyone forgot him). And last but not least, of course, Derrick. OMG HEARTBREAK. Though maybe he’s happier this way…
As I already mentioned, the story was high paced action from start to finish. A thrilling conclusion. I loved reading all the twists and turns and reveals (especially where/what the book actually was). And I never would have thought of sending the humans back to where Aithinne did, of bringing back as many people as she did. I don’t know why, but I didn’t, so that was a pleasant surprise in the end for me. As far as the “pre-ending,” the reader knows the whole time that something like that is going to happen. You know. And you also know that there’s no way that’s actually how things end. But it still isn’t enough preparation emotionally – I cried. And then, for the “real” ending, I of course cried again. I’m a sap. But credit to the author for pulling off that emotional investment even when I pretty much predicted the ending from the start, more or less. It was all the perfectly cheesy ending to an epicly crafted story.
Random things I liked: The introduction of the Morrigan. She’s such a huge part of Scottish lore that I would have been sad without her presence/the nod to her. The names. I love the way the author used so many names for Aileana/Kam and Kiaran/McKay/Kadamach. Names are powerful and she crafts different meanings into them beautifully. The “let me tell you a story” pieces – so adorable, such a great way to talk about love, mmmmmmm.
Random things I didn’t like (spoilers): This is not a critique just of this book, but the entire genre has an obsession with bringing people back from the dead (sacrifice being the only way to break curses, but that’s not the happy ending, so there always needs to be a loophole) and I wish sometimes that a different denouement could be tried. The curse said something about sacrificing their heart – I mean hadn’t she already kinda done that by letting Kiaran make that deal with Sorcha? You can lose something completely without it having to die. Just a thought. Also, the overuse of the “internal repetition of impactful things people have said to me” that Aileana has a habit of – it’s not a bad plot device in general, but I felt a little annoyed by how often she did it in these books.
One spot of confusion: Um, where did the steampunk element go? After the first book, Aileana just like, stops building stuff and creating weapons. I mean I know she gets some magic, but still, it just seems odd that it completely disappears from the story.”