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The Hound and the Falcon by Judith Tarr
Alfred is a monk of St. Ruan’s Abbey- devoted to his Brothers and his God, a scholar of rare talent, and very much more than a man. A foundling, he was taken in and raised by the Abbey as one of their own, and while his colleagues have grown to old men, he remains no more than a youth.
The quiet Abbey life that Alfred clings to is pulled away from him as he is sent out to the world, carrying a message of violence to the Richard Coeur de Leon. Once out of the Abbey’s comforting walls, Alfred cannot help but acknowledge something other than human blood runs through his veins. His eerie beauty and otherworldly skills catch the eye of the Hounds of God, who swear to purge him and all others like him from the Church, as well as the world itself.
From the temperate north to the sweltering heat of the Crusades, the Hound and the Falcon trilogy is a magnificent journey. There is a beauty, an acknowledgement of the sublime, that swells through every page. Pausing and closing the book was like coming up for air, almost disorienting, definitely displeasing as I wanted nothing more than to keep reading. Rarely have I been touched so by a book, but there is something bare, brutal and honest to Alfred and his search for identity and meaning that I could not help but be moved.
All else, all grand crusading and conflict aside, it reaches down to the root of identity and poses questions there that inflict an almost sympathetic bout of introspection upon the reader. And it is perfect.
Ms. Tarr has woven a depth of history and cultural detail in her books that make the world breathe. The characters and settings are whole, believable, and obviously lovingly researched.