The Falcon’s Eyes by Francesca Stanfill – a big historical novel of a woman’s life in the twelfth century

The Falcon’s Eyes by Francesca Stanfill

Anyone who enjoys their historical fiction books minutely detailed, impeccably researched and with a real sense of “being there” will appreciate this big book from Francesca Stanfill. It is a totally absorbing book set at the end of the twelfth century, a turbulent time of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine and challenging royal politics which affected the great families of both France and England. It is written from the point of view of Isabelle, a young woman whose love of stories, curiosity about the world and desire for more than a domestic life propels her and indeed the story through this meticulously written novel. Isabelle explains everything carefully from her perspective; her relatively comfortable childhood with its challenges and her great love for certain relatives, her surprise marriage and its difficulties within it, the repercussions of certain decisions she takes which places her in a unique position regarding a remarkable queen. Along the way the novel reveals the importance of clothes to create an effect, the precious nature of objects from the past, and the details of such things as falconry. It is a studied book of the beliefs and passions of the time, the expectations laid on women, the near absolute local power of aristocracy over lives. It is a subtle book of life on a non melodramatic basis, of the emergence of feelings, the insights that a woman gains into those around her, and the acceptance of new challenges. It is a totally immersive read, one which I enjoyed greatly, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review. 

This is a book which really captures the sense of being a woman in mediaeval times. Set in what is now France, this is a novel which deals in the emotions and feelings of Isabelle from her earliest times. It begins with a Prologue set in Fontevraud Abbey in 1204, and the death of Eleanor, a politically involved queen who had inherited the duchy of Aquitaine as a child. Her life as first the wife of a king of France, followed by her marriage to Henry ll, had been eventful, prolific in terms of children, and dominated by her support of her children against their father. It is obvious that she has been close to Isabelle and has entrusted many of her final secrets to her. Exactly how Isabelle, born in a family without political influence or particular financial status, became the companion of a powerful queen, is the main story of the book. Her progress, standing against those who criticised and took action against her, provides the main impetus of the novel. 

This is a novel written with real passion and involvement. Its minute detail and realisation contributes to a story of enormous depth which I found totally absorbing. The writing is memorable for its careful examination of a young woman’s thoughts and feelings, and I found a lot of sympathy for her as she experienced and remembered such figures in her life as a beloved grandfather and a special female friend, partly for their individual approach to life and their love of learning. This book is a special reading experience which I enjoyed greatly, especially for its thoughtful examination of what an unusual woman had to cope with in a complex time. I recommend it as a powerful read.