Book: Hawk Quest by Robert Lyndon (NEW April, 2013)
Talk about adventure travel! Robert Lyndon’s book of adventure travel in the Middle Ages will have you holding your breath as you flip through the pages. I found myself diving headlong into the adventures of French mercenary, Vallon, as he roamed through Medieval England, Scotland, Norway, Iceland, Greenland, Russia to Greece to Anatolia (modern Turkey) surviving one hair-raising adventure after another. And to add to my awe, this is a first novel, although Lyndon is an experienced non-fiction writer.
ADVENTURE TRAVEL in the MIDDLE AGES
There was not a lot of glamour to being “on the road” in the Middle Ages. But the grimy, dangerous Medieval adventure travel portrayed here sparks today’s traveler’s imagination.
Because there are so few physical remains for us to view as we travel, it is easy to overlook the importance of the Middle Ages. Actions taken in the 11th Century influence headlines today, and Hawk Quest is a reminder of that. William the Conqueror led the Normans into England just 6 years before the book begins. The Seljuks have challenged the Normans, forming what will become Turkey and setting off what will become the Crusades, as the Greeks lose their hold on Constantinople. The Vikings’ influence is waning, but they have spread their culture and their DNA throughout Europe. Trade routes are including people once isolated like the Icelanders and the Lapps.
At this critical juncture in history, Robert Lyndon imagines a cagey French warrior who inherits a quest from a dying wise man. Vallon also inherits the man’s Sicilian (then a Greek province) servant, the delicate but extremely intelligent Hero, who studies medicine and would prefer being a monk to a warrior. This odd couple take on another quest—finding rare pure white hawks (gryfalcons) in Iceland that are desired by the Turkish pasha who holds a Norman prince captive. They are joined by a half-wild boy/man named Wayland; an effete British prince, Richard who is brother to the captured prince ; and Raul, a rough and ready soldier.
This cast of characters guarantees a lot of conflict and interesting contrast, and Vallon continues to pick up ever more interesting characters along the way as the little band fights off the British, evades the Normans, learns to sail a ship so they can get to the nesting ground of the hawks. They must trek long distances, sail through storms, climb over ice fields and up cliffs, fight Vikings on land and on the water.
Vallon is a complex character, at once dangerous, disrespectful of law, ruthless, and honorable. Wayland, the falconer, asks,
“Do you take pleasure in killing?” Vallon thought about it. ”I take satisfaction in the defeat of my enemies. The world’s a dangerous place. Life’s a vicious game. Your falcons know that.”
Besides enjoying the fun of this Medieval quest, 21st century travelers may find the book encourages them to plan some adventure travel of their own. The author’s way with action includes a terrific way with words as we read descriptions of the English countryside, Iceland, and more. Islands are
…some like squat fortresses, another like a sleeping green whale, one of them an ugly pile of wrinkled slag with smoke wafting from its flanks.
In another passage he evokes the uneasiness of waiting for an enemy to turn up in a wild forest by the sounds.
Deep in the forest an owl gave a funereal hoot. Weapons chinked. Mosquitoes whined. Somewhere out in the river a big fish jumped.
No matter what a person’s station of life, there is some foreigner he can look down upon. We hear about the adventures of the north people (Greenlanders/Vikings) to “the Westland” which would have been North America. There they found “skraelings”–natives who they call “uglies”. As described by a man who is thought of as barely civilized by Vallon and his gang,
They were so unworldly that a settler could buy a bale of pelts with a scrap of woolcloth no broader than a finger. Soon, though, they became a menace. They stole the settlers’ livestock, not understanding that animals could be personal property, and they threatend hunters who went into the forests which they claimed as their preserves.
A couple of love stories, featuring women as interesting as the men,weave within the adventures, but always the author keeps our eye on the prize(s)–a quest to find and deliver the hawks and a quest to find a lost gospel of the apostle Thomas. Part of the second quest is to meet Prester John, the mythical Christian King of a mythical African land and. The Prester John story may be the hardest to swallow, so it is interesting to know that the same myth lured Vasco da Gama and the Portuguese explorers 400 years later. Prester John, you see, held the key to defeating the Muslims and retrieving Jerusalem and various artifacts of Christianity.
So here we are again. In the midst of a slam-bang, axe-wielding, sword slicing, blood-shedding adventure, the story turns on the battle between Islam and Christianity. That story still nags at us today.
If you are interested in history, or if you are a fan of action adventure novels, you’ll definitely like this book. It is worth noting that Lyndon is a falconer himself, so the information on the birds is totally accurate. But he also covers many other subjects in bringing this age and these people to life.
I doubted the book was going to appeal to me, but it is so beautifully written and so complex, that I found it endlessly fascinating. Wouldn’t it be a great travel adventure to follow the path Vallon took in his double quest? From the far northern reaches of Greenland to the Mediterranean shores of Greece and Turkey–what a journey it would be.
Note: The publishers provided me with an electronic copy of the book. My opinions are, as always, entirely my own. The links here to Amazon are affiliate links because when you use them to shop at Amazon, your purchases help support A Traveler’s Library. THANKS!
All photos are from Flickr, used with a creative commons license. Please click on the photos to learn more about each photographer.