Wings of the Falcon, by Barbara Michaels

>> Monday, September 20, 2004

Why, why, why isn't MPM publishing any more books under her Barbara Michaels pseudonym? As much as I love her Amelia Peabody books (and I do!), I can't help wishing for one more BM! What inspired this, BTW, was my reread of Wings of the Falcon.

Francesca accepted shelter from the noble Italian family of her dead mother after her father's death, but nothing prepared her for the strange forebodings, the elusive secrets, and the terrifying oppression. And nothing could explain the mysterious appearance of the horseman known as The Falcon.
For a long time, I thought I'd managed to find all of Barbara Michaels' books, until a careful check made me realize I was missing a couple. One of them was Wings of the Falcon. After I received it, it spent some time in my TBR, mostly because I was a bit afraid it would be a let-down... after all, the only two BM books I haven't really liked have been historical-set, like this one (I'm talking about Greygallows and Black Rainbow). Luckily, this one was much, much better. A B+.

The best thing about the book is the setting. Michaels has picked a time and place which isn't usually found in romantic novels, and yet is as romantic as one could wish: the Papal states in the midst of the fight for Italy's unification.

Our narrator has an interesting position: she's a foreigner, so she's able to see things with a bit of distance, but she's also part of it, through her family, so she can't distance herself completely. Her being so ignorant at first of what's going on, of course, gives Michaels the excuse to enlighten us readers with all the relevant information. I thought she did that very well, without sounding like a textbook. It helps, of course, that the history she's using is so fascinating and little known to her audience. I knew a bit of it from school, enough to know how it all would end, but my knowledge basically broad strokes.

The only thing I wasn't too crazy about was Francesca herself. She started out as a naive, girlish and pretty foolish 17 year old. I have a problem with teenaged heroines (outside Young Adult novels, of course), especially when there's a romantic situation with an older guy involved. Sometimes, if the heroine doesn't act 17, I can block this fact, mentally add a few years to her age, and go on quite happily. With Francesca, however, it was impossible. Her thoughts and actions were simply those of a young girl.

On one hand, this was quite well done, because her growth as a person was made very, very clear. On the other, I couldn't helped but being icked out by the romance. It was a shame, because I really liked the hero, who was a kind of Scarlet Pimpernel character.

The novel was nicely rounded out by a well-drawn cast of secondary characters. My favourite has to be Miss Perkins, the English spinster hired to accompany Francesca to Italy. This might have been even better with her as the heroine!

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