The Falconer's Knot: A Story of Friars, Flirtation and Foul Play

Overview

The award-winning author of the Stravaganza series has done it again with this atmospheric adventure set in Renaissance Italy. Chiara and Silvano come from different worlds, but when they fall in love while living in exile and posing as religious novices, they are powerless to reveal their feelings to one another. And a few suspicious murders don’t make their love lives any simpler! These intertwining stories unfold in a fantastic and completely entertaining romp that is marvelously engaging and filled with ...

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The Falconer's Knot: A Story of Friars, Flirtation and Foul Play

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Overview

The award-winning author of the Stravaganza series has done it again with this atmospheric adventure set in Renaissance Italy. Chiara and Silvano come from different worlds, but when they fall in love while living in exile and posing as religious novices, they are powerless to reveal their feelings to one another. And a few suspicious murders don’t make their love lives any simpler! These intertwining stories unfold in a fantastic and completely entertaining romp that is marvelously engaging and filled with swirling intrigue.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly

Hoffman (the Stravaganza series) once again whisks readers off to Italy, this time in the 14th century, for this highly entertaining mystery-farce hybrid. Readers can pick up clues from the third-person narrative that alternates among the four main characters. Sixteen-year-old Silvano, a noble, is in love with flirtatious young Angelica, the wife of a wealthy middle-aged sheep farmer named Tommaso. When Tommaso is murdered, Silvano becomes the prime suspect (especially since his dagger was the murder weapon). Silvano, along with his falcon (hence the title), seeks refuge at Giardinetto, a Franciscan friary, where he works for Brother Anselmo, mixing pigments for the frescoes in nearby Assisi. Meanwhile, Angelica is secretly thrilled her odious husband is dead; she gains control of her husband's profitable business and keeps an eye out for a socially well-positioned husband. Isabella, wife of 20 years to the cold, wealthy merchant Ubaldo, fantasizes about her first love, Domenico. Chiara, despite being sent by her brother to live in the abbey at Giardinetto (next door to the friary), dreams of falling in love and raising a family. After several murders occur at the friary, including that of a visiting Ubaldo, Silvano, Brother Anselmo (who turns out to be Domenico) and Chiara uncover the identity of the murderer. As the solution surfaces, so do the true loves of the main characters. Even though many readers will guess where the plot is headed, the pleasure is in the journey. Ages 12-up. (Apr.)

Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
VOYA - Cheryl French
When Silvano, the only son of a noble family, is found standing over the body of the man with whose wife he had been flirting, his bloody dagger thrust deep into the murdered man's side, he is sent off to the Franciscan Friary for sanctuary. There he discovers friendship, art, and a pretty, young novice named Chiara. Murder follows him, though, and suspicion soon settles on Silvano again as the body count climbs and the brothers learn his true identity. This slow-building mystery is written in vignette-like form with multiple scenes and characters presented in each chapter. Readers who have the patience to stick with the seemingly disparate threads will be rewarded when the intrigue picks up and sweeps the tale forward. Deception, danger, murder, intrigue, and forbidden romance all play a role. Like a Shakespearean comedy, love wins the day and everything wraps up neat and tidy-too neatly. The explanation behind the murders feels colorless and convenient, especially after the greater excitement of the actual murders. The struggle of will faced by many characters, however, should resonate with teen readers who are testing boundaries themselves. Although the style and setting will limit the book's appeal to true aficionados of romantic historical mysteries, readers who enjoy such stories will savor the atmospheric backdrop of the early Italian Renaissance and the rich, colorful descriptions of pigments and paintings. Fans of Hoffman's Stravaganza series will grab this one up as well.
Children's Literature - Keri Collins
When lovely Chiara, a young Italian woman of the Renaissance, is sent to a convent to spend the rest of her days, she thinks her life is over. Then she sees a young aristocrat arriving at the friary next door and knows instantly he is no more suited to the cloistered life than she. Who is he and why is he pretending to be a novice? He is Silvano, heir to the wealthy Montacuto estate, who knows nothing but a life of luxury; when he is framed for murder, he must live with the Franciscan monks while he waits for his name to be cleared. Both young people are surprised to find friendship and contentment within the walls of the religious orders, learning to create pigments used for religious paintings. The murder of a wealthy merchant within the walls of the friary sets into motion a complex chain of events as Silvano falls under suspicion, as does his friend Brother Anselmo, who was once in love with the merchant's wife. Only when the murderer strikes again do the Franciscan brothers realize a madman is in their midst. As Chiara, Silvano, and Anselmo try to solve the mysterious killings, it becomes clear that everyone has a secret past they prefer to keep hidden. With a very large cast of characters who take turns telling the story rather than a primary narrative voice, this historical novel is at times confusing, but worth persistence. Well researched and carefully plotted, the tale is as intricate as the illuminated manuscripts created by the monks and deftly intertwines murder, romance, revenge, art, religion, and history.
Kirkus Reviews
In Hoffman's latest, readers will have to suspend plenty of disbelief, and endure a few instances of deus ex machina, as well as the author's lighthearted treatment of many of the tenets of Catholic doctrine that even nonbelievers may find offensive. But the author of the Stravaganza series has written a rollicking, romantic tale, with gruesome murders, holy friars and both young and older lovers, set in the summer of 1316. Beautiful and rich young Silvano takes sanctuary with the friars near Assisi to escape persecution for a murder he did not commit; in the nearby convent, young Chiara has been dumped by her brother, who cannot provide a dowry. Both friary and convent make and grind colors for the great painter Simone Martini, who is creating radiant works in Assisi. Two women-one young, one older-are widowed, and two of the friars die horrible deaths. All of this connects via Silvano, Chiara and Silvano's hawk, and there is much talk of the making of paints and the poisonous qualities of some. Indeed, an image in Simone's painting provides a final clue to the perpetrator. Lightly historical and heavily fictional. (Historical fiction. YA)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9781599900568
  • Publisher: Bloomsbury USA
  • Publication date: 4/3/2007
  • Pages: 288
  • Sales rank: 744,842
  • Age range: 12 - 17 Years
  • Product dimensions: 5.25 (w) x 8.00 (h) x 0.90 (d)

Meet the Author

Mary Hoffman is the author of the Stravaganza series, Amazing Grace, and more than eighty other great books for children. She has three grown children and lives with her husband in Oxforshire, England

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Read an Excerpt

The Falconer's Knot


By Mary Hoffman

Bloomsbury

Copyright © 2007 Mary Hoffman
All right reserved.

ISBN: 978-1-59990-056-8

Contents

Chapter One Courtly Love...................................13 Chapter Two Red-handed.....................................25 Chapter Three Sanctuary....................................39 Chapter Four Saint Martin's Cloak..........................53 Chapter Five A Stab in the Dark............................65 Chapter Six Suspicion......................................77 Chapter Seven Illumination.................................90 Chapter Eight Widows.......................................102 Chapter Nine As Beautiful as Possible......................115 Chapter Ten Mundualdus.....................................129 Chapter Eleven From Beyond the Sea.........................141 Chapter Twelve Poison in the Air...........................154 Chapter Thirteen The Onlooker..............................168 Chapter Fourteen Minister General..........................180 Chapter Fifteen The Colour of Blood........................192 Chapter Sixteen Digging up the Past........................204 Chapter Seventeen Death's Head.............................216 Chapter Eighteen Mordant...................................229 Chapter Nineteen A Burial..................................243 Chapter Twenty Dead White..................................257 Chapter Twenty-One A Merlin for a Lady.....................272

Chapter One

Courtly Love

Silvano da Montacuto was not just young, handsome and rich. He was young, handsome, rich and in love. As he rode on a grey stallion along the main street of Perugia one evening in high summer, a hawk on his pommel and his hound pacing behind him, he could hardly have been happier.

Silvano was sixteen years old, slim and elegantly dressed, with a feather in his hat and a silver dagger in his belt - he was his mother's darling only son and his father's pride and joy. And he was on his way to the house of Angelica, his beloved.

But first he was to meet his best friend, Gervasio de' Oddini, to show him his new hawk, Celeste, and ask his advice about how to pursue his courtship of Angelica.

'Like a hunter,' Gervasio was sure to say. 'Study your prey, learn her habits, accustom her to your presence by seeming harmless and kind. And then, when she is tame and off-guard, you pounce!'

'But I am harmless - at least I mean her no harm,' Silvano would say.

Gervasio would just smile. He was a year older than his friend and liked to play the world-weary older man, experienced with women, accomplished in the arts of courtly love as well as proficient in the skills of hunting, fighting and running up debts at the local inns.

The Eagle was where they were to meet this evening, their favourite inn near the main square of the city, the Platea Magna. Silvano tied up his horse outside but took the hooded Celeste in on his wrist, Ettore the hound padding after them. The inn was an ideal place for a private conversation, full of loud-voiced drinkers and smoky with candles.

Silvano made out his friend through the gloom and threaded his way past wooden tables, stepping over outstretched legs. Gervasio was drinking with a man Silvano had never seen before, who slipped away silently as soon as he approached. Gervasio called for more wine and the two young men moved to a table in a quieter part of the room.

'Nice bird,' said Gervasio, admiring Celeste's barred breast feathers.

'From Bruges,' said Silvano casually, while bursting with pride. 'She was trained in Brabant, of course.'

'Of course,' said Gervasio ironically. His own hawk was a small hobby, all his father could afford as his family were minor nobility and Gervasio was the sixth and youngest son.

Silvano was the only son and heir of the wealthy Baron Montacuto, and his clothes, his horse and now his new peregrine all declared his status to the world. The friends spent a good ten minutes discussing the qualities of the falcon, who had been a birthday present, before getting on to the subject of the fair Angelica.

'If only a certain lady could be induced by soft words and compliments to bend to your will like Celeste,' said Gervasio, at last changing the subject to an area in which he did feel superior to his friend.

Silvano fetched a deep sigh in agreement. He was quite happy to discuss Angelica all night long but did not feel any confidence that she really knew of his existence. She was married to a wealthy sheep farmer, much older than her, who bought her fine dresses and jewels and perfumes, but that was not the problem. In Silvano's eyes she was as much above him in beauty as he was above her in station and he could not believe she would ever look kindly on his devotion, even if she were free.

'Write her a poem,' suggested Gervasio, looking keenly at his friend. He was much more cynical than Silvano and couldn't see how a well-dressed and good-looking boy with money and a title could fail to impress a young woman married to a middle-aged farmer with a paunch and a wart at the side of his nose.

And there was no doubt that Silvano was good-looking. His light brown hair was cut so that it fell straight to just under his jaw and his eyes were a light silvery-grey with long dark lashes, both features inherited from his Belgian mother. The Baronessa Montacuto was delicate in face and form and what had been detrimental in her, causing her to lose three other sons and a brace of daughters before they drew breath, gave to her surviving boy a grace of movement and a fineness of feature that fitted his destiny perfectly.

He rode, fenced, hunted, sang like a dawn bird and could read Latin almost as well as a monk. But his future would not lie in the Church. No, Silvano would be Baron Montacuto, with a household of servants, the rents from substantial lands north of Perugia and a beautiful Baronessa to raise his brood of children. Only she would not be Angelica. The sheep farmer's wife would be fat before she was twenty-five, but Silvano would have moved on by then.

Gervasio's mouth curved as he thought of her ample charms. 'Write her a poem,' he said again. 'She'll be impressed.'

A faint pink flush had tinged Silvano's prominent cheekbones.

'You've done it already, haven't you?' laughed Gervasio. 'I knew it! Come on, let's hear it.'

Silvano dug into the purse at his belt and produced a piece of parchment, much scraped and criss-crossed with black ink. He pretended not to be able to read his verse properly but actually he knew the words without the parchment:

'Twice wounded lies my bleeding heart And suffers still its secret pain. Amor himself shot the first dart My lady's eyes then aimed again. The god has left for heaven's gate Who now his work on earth has done For me to heal it is too late Unless to mercy she should come. One glance would mend the second scar Or could if it were soft and kind. One rose but thrown from out her bower. The first I'll bear till end of time.

'That's all there is so far,' said Silvano, his cheeks now burning.

'That should do the trick,' said Gervasio, trying to keep a straight face.

'You really think she'll like it?'

'She will if you read it to her in your most pleading voice and flutter your long eye-lashes at her. In fact,' said Gervasio, getting to his feet, 'let's go and find her now and strike while the iron is hot.'

Angelica lived in the west of the city, near the Porta Trasimena, a short walk from the inn. The two young men walked past the vast bulk of the Church of San Francesco, with its friary alongside it. It held a special horror for Gervasio, who feared that he might one day be sent to live there as a friar, once his father had died and his brothers had shared out the patrimony. And he had no taste for poverty or obedience, let alone chastity.

Two young friars, in their dingy grey habits, walked barefoot out of the great church as they passed and Gervasio grimaced at the sight. He hurried Silvano along the road west.

* * *

Angelica sat at the window of her husband's town house feeling bored. Tommaso was off negotiating sheep prices in Tuscany, but she refused to set foot in the old-fashioned stone farmhouse outside Gubbio, even when he was not away. Buying the fashionable palazzo in the city had been part of their marriage contract. Old Tommaso brought the wealth and substance to the match; Angelica the beauty. Her family were well aware that she had nothing else to offer: no name or breeding, no particular skills or accomplishments, just her perfectly oval face with the springy blond curls that framed it and her perfectly rounded limbs.

Tommaso wanted an heir; his first wife had been barren and he had waited patiently until she died. Angelica wanted a nice house, servants and pretty clothes to wear. In her parents' home she had been little more than a servant herself and she had sworn not to have hands as coarse and red as her mother's. So the town house had been purchased and for the first year of her marriage Angelica had enjoyed buying furniture and hangings for it almost as much as she had revelled in the silks and lace and fur she could wrap around her pampered body, according to the season.

But now she was bored. The expected - the bargained for - baby had not arrived. There had been the beginnings of one but it ended in pain and blood a few months into its life and Angelica had used that as an excuse to keep Tommaso out of her bed for many months. And she was beginning to wonder if all the pretty clothes in the world could make up for having a short fat middle-aged man for a husband.

Angelica glanced out of the window and immediately turned pink with pleasure. There were two good-looking young men in the street below and she knew that one of them was in love with her.

Silvano looked up and saw her. She was dressed in a light blue gown with white muslin at the breast and she wore a double string of pearls round her throat. In his own throat his voice died and he knew that he could never recite his poem to her.

'You do it,' he hissed to Gervasio. 'You'll say it better than I will,' and he thrust the parchment into his friend's hand, turning away from the palazzo to hide his confusion.

* * *

'I won't, I won't, I won't!' said the girl, glaring at her brother. 'You can't make me!'

'I think you will find that I can,' said Bernardo. 'I am your brother and your guardian and, if I say you are to enter a convent, who will argue with me except yourself?'

Chiara was weeping with rage and fear. 'Then you will have to tie me up and take me there in a sack,' she spat. 'For no one will ever say I went there willingly!'

'If that is what I have to do, then I shall do it,' said Bernardo, quite unperturbed. 'There is no other choice. Father did not leave enough money for a decent dowry for you. The pittance that the Poor Clares are willing to accept as a donation would buy you no kind of husband. And you wouldn't want to be married off to a hideous old man, would you?'

Chiara stopped her raging for a moment. Could it really be that Bernardo was being kind and considerate in his way? But she knew his way of old and there had been little enough kindness in her life since their father had died six months ago. And not much before that.

'But why can't I stay here with you and Vanna?' she asked, subsiding into sobs. 'It is my home and I could help you with the children.'

'We've been through all this before,' said Bernardo wearily. 'I can pay a servant girl to do that for far less than it would cost to keep you in meat and wine and decent clothing.'

'Then let me eat bread and drink ale and wear homespun!' cried Chiara. 'Only don't send me away.'

'You are being ridiculous,' snapped Bernardo. 'I am not selling you into slavery. Many girls like you enter religious houses and live devout and useful lives. Why should not you?'

Because I am not without a family, thought Chiara. And I don't have a vocation. But she was too proud to beg for her brother to show her some affection. She had been starved of that since the death of their mother when she had been a little girl just losing her milk teeth. Their father had been like his son, a man not given to tender caresses or shows of emotion. Chiara wondered fleetingly how her sister-in-law Vanna could bear being married to such a cold fish.

But she pushed the thought down along with her own feelings of rejection. She had been silent for some minutes and the tears were drying on her face. Her future as a nun stretched drearily out in front of her, empty of adventure or romance, and she felt deathly tired, as if she really had fought her brother physically and lost.

'I see you have no answer,' said Bernardo. 'That is settled then.'

He had won.

* * *

Silvano turned aside, biting his lip while Gervasio recited his verses to Angelica. They sounded banal now to his ears, and impossibly naïve, when said in Gervasio's light, slightly mocking voice, and yet he had filled them with all the passion in his heart while he was writing. Silvano couldn't wait to be properly grown up with a mistress of his own and a beard on his chin and some property to manage.

With his girlish features and slight body he was an easy target for his father's friends, who were all prosperous middle-aged men with chests like barrels and legs like tree trunks. Men of substance, who could drink all night and show no ill effects and get up at dawn to ride out hunting the next day. Yet Silvano was stronger than he looked and fearless, and could wield the dagger he wore at his waist and a long sword when occasion arose. He just wished he could learn how to keep his feelings out of his face.

But what was this? Angelica was clapping her hands, her soft white hands, and laughing. She was saying that his poem was pretty. And now that he looked at her, he could see that she was picking a red flower from a pot on her balcony. True, it was a geranium and not a rose, which did not smell as sweet, but it sailed through the air gracefully enough, before being caught by Gervasio.

His friend handed it to Silvano straightaway, along with the parchment, indicating him as the poet. Did Angelica look a little disappointed? Silvano put the pungent flower in his hat and bowed to her with a flourish before putting the cap back on.

'Come away,' hissed Gervasio. 'We must leave now. That's the husband coming back.'

Tommaso was indeed toiling up the hill and Angelica's expression told the friends that she was surprised and displeased to see him in equal measure. She would have much preferred to spend the sunset hour flirting with two young men. Now she would have to organise dinner for her husband and listen to him grumbling about the price of sheep. And if she were unlucky, later than night he would come to her room and slobber over her, ruining her complexion with his stubbly face. She shuddered.

As the two friends strolled back down the hill, the farmer lifted his cap to them and they, in a gesture that he took quite rightly as irony lifted theirs to him with a flourish. Nobles didn't display much courtesy to farmers. Tommaso looked sharply at the flower in the younger man's hat and thought he caught a glimpse of a blue dress vanishing from the balcony of his house.

* * *

Sister Eufemia was in charge of the novices at the little convent in Giardinetto. It was a small community; in spite of what Bernardo had said to his sister, not many women entered the Order of the Poor Clares unless they had a real calling. The community at Giardinetto had only twenty nuns and three novices. Chiara would be the fourth.

'This girl from Gubbio,' said the Abbess to Sister Eufemia. 'I doubt she has any real vocation.'

'Didn't the brother say she was a devout child, so racked with grief still for her dead father that she wanted to withdraw from the world?' asked Eufemia.

'I think the brother would have said anything to get her off his hands,' said the Abbess drily. 'But if we don't take her in, he'll find some other convent that will. And at least we can be kind to her. If she doesn't seem fitted to the religious life, she can be a lay sister. Perhaps she'll be useful in the pigment room?'

'Well, Sister Veronica could certainly do with the help,' said Eufemia. 'You'd think those painters in Assisi eat the colours we prepare for them - Sister Veronica simply can't keep up.'

'We must not complain about that, Sister Eufemia,' said the Abbess, in a tone of mild reproof. 'It is all to the glory of the Blessed Saint Francis himself. It will be a wonder that brings many more pilgrims to Assisi when all the frescoes are finished.'

'True, Mother,' said Eufemia. 'Nothing is too good for the Saint, God rest his noble soul.' She crossed herself matter-of-factly as all the sisters did so many times a day they hardly noticed they were doing it. 'But you know the brothers here have started their own pigment room? There will be work enough for both houses before the Basilica is complete.'

(Continues...)



Excerpted from The Falconer's Knot by Mary Hoffman Copyright © 2007 by Mary Hoffman . Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

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  • Anonymous

    Posted March 7, 2008

    Ah-mazing

    I loved this book! I am not normally into mysteries but this one was perfect! I loved all the characters. I promise you will never figure out the killer until two pages before you find out!

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