Andreas, 14 and lowborn, cannot bear to allow the death of a peregrine falcon, unfairly condemned by a count’s son, and so escapes with it, introducing readers to European life in the early 13th century.
The story is divided into eight parts, which are further divided into four chapters. Each part begins with an excerpt from an actual book about falconry written by Frederick von Hohenstaufen II, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire. Frederick’s reign is at its peak as Andreas sneaks himself and the stolen falcon, Adela, onto a peddler’s cart. The peddler Richard, ostensibly a dealer of falcons, has other tricks up his sleeve. Within an imaginative but believable plot, the fictional Andreas, after many encounters with mostly fictional characters, eventually has a meeting with Frederick himself. Action-oriented readers will put down the book early on, impatient with the sometimes-awkward, descriptive characterizations and historical background that set up the story: “Castle Kragenberg was located in the northern part of the Holy Roman Empire, just south of the city of Lübeck in the Duchy of Saxony, in a wide open, mostly flat, fertile region, and winters were harsh.” Those who read on will be rewarded, empathizing with Andreas as he sets forth to provide Adela her freedom and slowly learns his life calling in the process. His friendship with Richard’s daughter, Gemma, adds further dimension to the tale.
This well-researched and carefully plotted novel features a likable protagonist and a setting straight from the Newbery canon. (notes, suggested reading, acknowledgements) (Historical fiction. 11-15)