When kingdoms clash, every crown will be tarnished by the bloody price of ambition. That’s the tagline for Karen Miller’s new novel The Falcon Throne, the first in a new epic fantasy series, and I have to say, it’s a pretty accurate line to summarize most of the 600+ page book.
The Falcon Throne revolves chiefly around two duchies, Harcia and Clemen, who share a border but not much else. They distrust each other, possibly even hate each other, but while they’re dealing with their cross-border politics, they’ve each got their own internal problems brewing.
Aimery, the Duke of Harcia, is having trouble controlling his eldest son Balfre, who has an ego more fragile than a glass snowflake. Aimery doesn’t see him fit to take his eventual place as duke, so he looks to his youngest son Grefin — a far better choice, as he’s more levelheaded and responsible than Balfre. Balfre, of course, doesn’t take this news very well, and so he develops a scheme that, over time, will hopefully help him land not only on the duke’s throne, but on the throne of the king as well, as he dreams of one day conquering Clemen and making it a part of Harcia.
Meanwhile in Clemen, their duke Harald was recently deposed and replaced by his bastard cousin Roric. Harald’s infant son Liam was thought to be killed in the ensuing clash the night of Harald’s dethroning, but unbeknownst to anyone else, Liam was smuggled to safety thanks to his wet nurse, Ellyn. Now with Roric as Clemen’s duke, he has to work to maintain the trust of the people and ensure the duchy’s safety from those who would try to exploit its weaknesses with a new duke in power.
That’s really the bare minimum of what this enormous brick of a novel contains: there are so many subplots and so much world-building. The problem, I found, is that you really need to be interested in a pretty specific thing in order to immerse yourself in a majority of these subplots. The ‘specific thing’? Political drama – or, more accurately, familial bickering, because in a majority of the scenes, that’s all that’s taking place.
The story is always most interesting whenever there’s action on the pages – for example, the night of Harald’s dethronement was rife with tension and suspense and, yes, real drama. After that moment, the book seems to start a slow, gentle descent into non-action… which wouldn’t be a bad thing if the dethronement didn’t happen less than 100 pages into a 600-page monster. So if you’re not into long conversations about political alliances and plots and marriage details, a lot of The Falcon Throne might bore you.
There’s also a lot of characters – I mean a lot. Thank god for the dramatis personae list at the beginning of the book because without it, I probably would’ve forgotten how each character relates to each other.
The interesting thing that Miller does with her characters is that even though there are so many, she takes the time to show them off in different circumstances, allowing you to see them in both positive and negative ways. Some characters obviously have more negative than positive traits, and vice versa, but at least in this way there’s no clear-cut “good guy” or “bad guy.” It’s more true to reality, despite it being a fantasy novel, so it makes the characters more fascinating.
Overall, The Falcon Throne definitely isn’t terrible by any means, but it feels very much like it’s trying to catch up to the success of something like Game of Thrones that it already feels like it’s been done before. Granted, there’s been epic fantasy before Game of Thrones, and there will definitely be epic fantasy after Game of Thrones, but it’s hard not to compare the two, which I guess is a shame for Miller considering she obviously has done a lot of work here. If you’re a fan of those kinds of epic fantasy/political intrigue fusions and have the stamina to get through thick tomes like this one then you’ll probably enjoy The Falcon Throne; otherwise, this probably isn’t your cup of tea.
2.5 out of 5 stars
Gabby Taub, the Fantasy Reviewer at Girls in Capes, is a recent graduate of New York University. She enjoys reading, writing, watching TV, and spending time getting lost among the bookshelves at Strand Bookstore.