Francesca Stanfill, "The Falcon's Eyes: A Novel" (Harper, 2022)

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Twelfth-century Europe was not a good time or place to be born female. Even queens had few rights, garnered little respect, and were tolerated largely for their ability to produce male heirs—preferably in quantity and without exhibiting any unfortunate qualities such as independence or intelligence. One notable exception was Eleanor of Aquitaine, queen of England thanks to her marriage (following a scandalous affair and divorce) to Henry II of England—although Eleanor spent many of her later years imprisoned by her no longer loving husband, who suspected her of conspiring with their sons against him.

In The Falcon's Eyes (Harper, 2022), Eleanor appears first as a shining if distant example for Isabelle, a young countess whose impoverished family is delighted to marry her off to the wealthy if less distinguished Gerard de Meurtaigne. Isabelle initially welcomes the match, but her new husband soon shows a disturbing need for control over his dependents, including his wife. Budding friendships with her maid, her steward, and even the noble Lady Fastrada attract Gerard’s ire, leaving Isabelle yearning for the one sure escape available to medieval women: the convent. Specifically, she longs to join the convent at Fontevraud, which attracts both nuns like Lady Fastrada’s sister and well-endowed laywomen in search of a quiet refuge. But she never expects to find herself face-to-face with Eleanor of Aquitaine.

Francesca Stanfill’s multilayered story offers a rich and absorbing picture of medieval life at all levels, from the sorceress living in a hut in the woods to the falcons’ mews and the exigencies of travel. Her sure hand and light touch make this both a memorable and an enjoyable read.

Francesca Stanfill’s previous novels are Shadows and Light and Wakefield Hall. Her enduring fascination with Eleanor of Aquitaine inspired The Falcon’s Eyes.

C. P. Lesley is the author of two historical fiction series set during the childhood of Ivan the Terrible and three other novels. Her latest novel, Song of the Sinner, appeared in January 2022.

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