Falcon Royal by Catherine Darby

(Falcon, #5)

Falcon Royal is the 5th in a series of brilliant historical-gothic romances by one of England's foremost authors.

Victorian England Scandalized!

After nearly 100 years of war and social upheaval, England settled into one of its rare periods of peace. It was the time of the Reform Bill and social conscience and the new horrors brought forth by the Industrial Revolution.

Lord James Falcon, master of Kingsmead, was a kind and generous man and a leading figure in Parliament in the fight to bring equality and justice and humane living conditions to the working class. He was loved and honored by all who knew him. But beneath the surface of fine manners and respectability burned a jealous and passionate soul. When the staid atmosphere of Kingsmead was shattered by rape, murder, fire, and adultery only the mysterious and beautiful Willow knew the cause. But before she realized it, she too was swept up by a force as ancient and corrupt as the terrible history of the Falcon family, a force that drove them beyond the boundaries of polite society and enslaved them to their own sensuous appetites.

Fairing better than the first novel, Falcon Royal focuses on the story of Felice, hired by the Falcons as a personal assistant, little Willow, a half-relative living on the grounds, Lady Mair, the lady of the Falcon house, and of course the husband James Falcon. Still haunted by the curse began by the witch Margred years previous, Willow is an evil little thing, delighting in bugging Lady Mair and uncovering general mischief. Encouraged by the story of the witch, and that she herself bears the same half-crescent moon marking on her person, she hopes to eventually unlock the full magic and become the lady of the house. Felice is actually a delightful person, but of course in this saga generally delightful people meet the worst ends.

There is never usually something breathtaking about any characters in these novels; they usually have something so horrendous about their personalities that it's impossible to latch onto them emotionally. The same can be said here for both Willow and to an extent Lady Mair. Other people you just end up feeling bitter for, as they are washed away by deceit of some sort, leaving behind only memories of "ugh". Each book focuses on several parts, of time lines, showing the lives and deaths of major characters and how they age.

Feeling slightly rushed because of this, the pacing is a bizarre animal. At times slow and with build-up to show characterization and purpose, yet housed in a small book where at least two generations live, I can't say the book is a fast-paced creation, but it's not slow either. The strange miscellany makes it fun to read on one hand, while baffling on another. Being a 70's Gothic book, the story and writing style match the Gothic, old-world tone exactly. Told in third-person, no one seems to be a cut out character, but it's unique in the way they're handled. You never know them truly well, for everyone - even the nice ones - are off-standish for the reader.

The series seems to focus more on women than men, perhaps because the main heroine who began the curse was a witch - and the writer is a woman - but ultimately it seems that men somehow cause all the women go through (usually without knowing it). In the first book, for example, Henry made the mistake of falling in love with someone other than his wife, giving in to greed for self-survival, and ultimately paying the worst sort of price. Here James is a nice guy who would never resort to scandalizing actions such as illicit affairs, but his general manner is his doom. Not having much of a backbone and protective of all, he goes head-to-head in mild arguments against his wife Lady Mair. While I can understand her viewpoint on a few occasions, she's just not that likable of a woman. Her betrayal comes not from him betraying her in a direct sense like Harry did to Margred, but instead he betrays her through being overtly passive in life. Different route but ultimately the same destination.

As always the end is bittersweet, leaving a dull lump in the throat. Frankly this series is just depressing. I've always loved the old Gothic traditions and atmospheres, with large looming castles, dashingly handsome men, coy and sweet women...but that's generally not found here. Still it's interesting, as almost all books telling a families movement are. It left off with more evil witting from Willow, leaving me craving more in its sequel. If you're a fan of the Gothic stories, this popular series from the seventies (that spawned 12 books) is worth a look, but be warned it's far different from most books experienced.

   Similar Reviews:

http://thepaperbackstash.blogspot.com/2013/04/the-lost-lilacs-of-latimer-house.html http://thepaperbackstash.blogspot.com/2010/10/rebecca-by-daphne-dumaurier.html http://thepaperbackstash.blogspot.com/2007/07/you-know-its-shame-beverly-c.html http://thepaperbackstash.blogspot.com/2013/10/delias-shadow-by-jaime-lee-moyer.html http://thepaperbackstash.blogspot.com/2007/06/garden-of-shadows-by-vc-andrews.html