The Maltese Falcon was no mere legend—this fabulously jewelled golden bird really existed. Still exists, according to the last words of a dying man. Ayesha Ryder is on its trail, but not just to find the Falcon itself. It is said to contain a clue to the lost burial place of King Harold of England, a potent symbol for ruthless politicians determined to break up the UK and create a new, independent English Kingdom. The Falcon may also contain a second clue, one that few would believe.
Labelled an assassin, hunted by Scotland Yard and Dame Imogen Worsley of MI5—as well as those who want the Falcon and its secrets for themselves—Ayesha joins forces with Joram Tate, the mysterious librarian known to her friend Lady Madrigal, a one-time lover of Lawrence of Arabia. As Ayesha’s attraction to Tate grows, they follow clues left by long-dead knights to the tomb of a Saxon king and to the ruined Battle Abbey. When the trail leads them to a stunning secret hidden for a thousand years beneath an English castle, Ayesha must battle modern killers with medieval weapons before confronting the evil that would destroy her nation.
Ayesha Ryder returns in this third instalment of the Ryder series called Bird of Prey. And with Bird of Prey this series has most definitely entered alternate history territory, even if at times referencing real-world developments directly, mentioning Richard III’s body being found in Leicester and some of the intricacies of EU economic and political problems. While I greatly enjoyed parts of the narrative and I really liked the book overall, Bird of Prey was my least favourite book of the series so far.
With this third book you can see the Ryder formula emerging: historical detective work ala Indiana Jones – a connection I hadn’t yet made, but which one of the characters made for me by referring to her Indy hat – combined with political conspiracy, one part romance – of the not-so prim and proper variety – all wrapped around the character development of Ayesha Ryder and her history. And like in the previous two books Ayesha has new sidekicks to help her in her investigation, but hopefully the ones she found in this book will stick around for more adventures, they certainly seemed positioned for it.
Ayesha’s development in this novel is wonderful. Pengelley reveals more of her past through flashbacks and more cracks in the walls she’s built around her heart. The things revealed about her past and especially her family are heart-breaking, even more so with later revelations in the book taken into account. It makes the cracks in Ayesha’s walls particularly interesting. At one point she is thinking about Niobe, one of the characters she meets, and the predicament they are in and she wonders whether she’s found another friend, because she’d like one. This to me is the best example of how Ayesha is changing and allowing herself to feel.
The new friends Ayesha makes in Bird of Prey, her sidekicks, were great and I really hope that both of them return in future books. Ayesha’s first new friend and sidekick is Joram Tate, the librarian of The Walshingham Institute, is fabulous, though I might be biased, because I love kick-ass librarian characters. I loved this suave and competent character, who reminded me a lot of a more action-oriented Rupert Giles, he of Buffy fame. Their powerful attraction added some interesting spice to the narrative, though at times Ayesha was a little distracted at inappropriate times, like in the middle of a gunfight. The second sidekick, Niobe Bagot, is just as cool, an archaeologist with an interest in the era of King Harold and the Battle of Hastings, she joins in Ayesha’s and Joram’s quest to find his grave. I really liked her and the big, fat nod to Indiana Jones she implies. And as in the previous books, the recurring characters – Susannah Armstrong, Dame Imogen and her husband, Lady Madrigal and Tatiana – are always a joy, so I’m hoping Tate and Niobe will be part of them from now on. Of the villains the only one to stand out was Bebe Daniells, the rest were somewhat vanilla due to their vagueness.This vagueness was understandable for plot purposes, but it also made them hard to connect to on more than a superficial level.
The plot is as action-packed as the previous books and a great mix of political intrigue and historical mystery. I really liked the Maltese Falcon angle, which beyond the book title and the Bogart film I didn’t know anything about, but that made it all the more interesting. In fact, the historical bits are my favourite thing about this series. Pengelley manages to drop lots of interesting tidbits into the narrative, which had me reaching for Wikipedia more than once to learn more about it. And that is a thing that always makes me happy. Add to that a secret warehouse of old books, a connection to a famous order of knights, and a fantastic siege scene and the history in this book completely won me over.
The one thing I actually disliked about the book was the way Pengelley dismissed Milton Hoenig, Ryder’s partner from the previous book. I really liked them together and I was rather sad that he was gone without any explanation at all. The other thing that bugged me was the role of the Dom/Sub relationship in the plot. This felt off to me from how I’ve seen it discussed in the wake of Fifty Shades of Grey. As far as I’m aware any BDSM relationship has to be based on consent and trust, which didn’t seem the case here. That seems to be the point Pengelley was working towards given the twist created around Bebe Daniels and her past, but it didn’t come together as seamlessly as it could have, if only because the dom/sub relationship as depicted in the book read more like an abusive situation than an actual consensual partnership without anyone actually calling it that.
Still, despite all of this, I had a fun time with Bird of Prey and I can’t wait for the next one, which looks to be just as fun with added T.E. Lawrence to boot if the hook at the end of the story is any indication. If you’re looking for an exciting read for a rainy afternoon inside or even a sunny one outside, this one will definitely do the trick.
Monday, May 4th: No More Grumpy Bookseller
Tuesday, May 5th: Vic’s Media Room
Wednesday, May 6th: My Book Retreat
Thursday, May 7th: Bell, Book & Candle
Friday, May 8th: Joyfully Retired
Monday, May 11th: Reading Reality
Wednesday, May 13th: Brooke Blogs
Thursday, May 14th: Read Love Blog
Monday, May 18th: Reading to Distraction
Monday, May 18th: Queen of All She Reads
Tuesday, May 19th: Book Nerd
Wednesday, May 20th: Dwell in Possibility
Thursday, May 21st: Patricia’s Wisdom
Tuesday, May 26th: 2 Kids and Tired Book Reviews
Thursday, May 28th: Book Babe