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Protected By The Falcon: The Ancestor's Secrets Book 1 (Volume 1) Paperback – July 10, 2014
About the Author
I became an avid reader at a very early age, thanks to my dad who introduced me to many great books. The writing bug bit me much later, on a rainy afternoon, when I couldn’t find any new book to read. My daughter had enough of my moping around and snapped at me, “Mom, stop whining! If you haven’t a book to read, then write one.” Her challenge shocked me, but I started playing with the idea. What if there is a secret society with strict rules and laws exist hidden among us? What if certain members come to possess magical powers? What if those abilities could be used to do good or evil? I’ve never exceled in following rules or formulas, so I discarded the instructions I found in “how to write fiction” books, and made up my personal rules. At first, I started playing with the story just for my own enjoyment, I thought, writing the swirling ideas in my head was far better than being haunted by them. I kept writing for months, and soon I realized that I never had so much fun doing anything in my life before.
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Strong female characters (always a plus in my opinion) and a villain (in this case two of them) worthy of the name make "Protected by the Falcon" an interesting read. In addition, the existence of a secret society and a heroine who must come to grips with it and its strict rules add to the enjoyment of Erika M. Szabo's novel.
I did have some problems, however, with this book.
The first involves the heroine: Ilona is 29, a doctor, and the heir to the same magical powers that her late mother possessed. No one, however, can tell her that she has those powers, or how to use them once she becomes aware of them. The reason: Her parents were killed years before and so her mother - who, under the rules of the secret society, is the only one allowed to tell her what her powers are and how they should be used - never passed on that knowledge. That said, I had trouble accepting the premise that Ilona was left to figure out how to use these powers on her own. My sense is that, under those circumstances, a mentor would have been appointed to guide her along so that she did not inadvertently harm other members of the society or expose its existence to public scrutiny as a result of using her powers.
The second problem I had was with Ilona herself. She is highly intelligent, a medical school graduate living in what many pundits call "The Age of Information" and yet she makes little or no attempt to discover the history of her family, the origin of the powers she has, or anything about the secret society that she belongs to despite the fact she knows almost nothing about it. There are no chapters in the book showing that she is using the Internet to search for clues, or consulting experts in Hungarian history, or even digging through the local library in search of books that can help her. Instead, her search for answers seems limited to demanding that her housekeeper answer her questions despite the fact that trying to do so causes the older woman great physical and emotional pain. I found it hard to reconcile the fact that Ilona, who is painted as a caring physician, would put her housekeeper in a situation that would cause her such pain.
I also had some difficulty with her relationship to her best friend Bela.
In the early part of the novel Ilona is desperately in love with him but he makes it clear that she is "just a friend."
Later in the book, however, that premise seems to flip flop. When Bela recognizes that Ilona has deep feelings for another man, he sighs about the fact the woman he loves doesn't love him noting that it was she who made it clear that he was "just a friend."
Sorry, but you can't have it both ways.
"Protected by the Falcon" has an interesting narrative conceit in that most of it is told in the form of diary entries, although it does sometimes switch gears when it is told by one of the villains. There are some interesting flashback sequences as well. Flashbacks are problematical in that they can either enlighten a narrative or slow it to a near dead stop. Szabo has managed to use her flashbacks to enlighten the narrative and she's to be applauded for being able to do so.
The characters in this novel are well drawn. We learn a great deal about them naturally, in the flow of the narrative, instead of having their entire life stories dumped on us all at once. Ilona is the protagonist in this book, but the secondary characters are much more than mere cardboard cutouts. That, too, is a major plus in my opinion.
"Protected by the Falcon" is the first in a series of books about Ilona and her friends and family so, while a little disappointing, it is not surprising that this novel ends without a clear resolution to the storyline. I would have preferred that it was a standalone book but I recognize that's not the trend in modern fiction so I have accepted that fact.
I bought Protected by the Falcon in one of those promotion deals. I was intrigued by the description of blending current time with legends of power and magic that are as old as dirt. Besides, ebooks are not that expensive, less than an extra-large cup of service station coffee, so I figured if I didn't like it then it would be about the same as leaving the aforementioned cup of coffee on the roof of my pickup and driving off. Not the end of the world.
I settled down one evening with Falcon in my hand and gave it a try. I was a little tentative because although I like fantasy, wizards, power mad ancients and the like, I am not one of your regular romance novel readers. What a nice surprise for me.
First, I was taken with the protagonist, Ilana. What's not to like: smart, some sort of ancient magic running through her veins, and beautiful? The story is languid at first, a bit slowish I was thinking, but then it dawned on me it was the pace of Ilana's reticent approach to the world. No, not withdrawn, she is an ER doctor after all, but her social presence is, well, distant. Now I was in the rhythm of the book and engaged to the extent I neglected some of the things I was supposed to be doing.
It was a romance novel and there were times that I was disengaged from the description of the gorgeous guy with the rippling muscles under the perfect silk shirt and perfectly contrasting pants, but perhaps that is because I don't have said rippling muscles. Or a silk shirt for that matter.
I have several things that I watch for when I read a book. If distracted by any of them, I start thinking less of the book. Too many of these distractions and I metaphorically put it on the roof of the pickup and drive off. First and foremost - the characters. Do I care if they walk the surface of the page? Check. Szabo presents us with well-developed characters; the protagonists are worth rooting for, and the antagonists are nicely evil.
The second thing is the story. We have all read books where the characters are great, but the story is banal. Check again. In Falcon, pay attention at first because the characters are introduced rather quickly and have unfamiliar names for most of us, but soon the story had me and I was interested in where it was going.
Third. Mistakes that take you out of the story, things that make you suspend your disbelief. Every story has one or two of those, but when they are egregious and rip you from the world you are in? To the top of the pickup. Check – none of those moments.
Fourth. Does it fit within the genre that it claims to inhabit? Check again. Falcon blends fantasy, romance, ancient power and the modern world. Nice.
Fifth. When I finish do I think, "well that was sort of nice but I could have been shampooing the rug instead." Check. I just bought book two in the series. I like the characters, I am engaged, I care what happens, and I want to know how this story comes out.
Added benefit. Without spoilers, and writing a synopsis of the book, I can reveal that Szabo has taken the ancient culture, legends, and myths of the Huns and used that as the ancient driving force behind the story. She does not over use the material, but does so with enough teasing detail that I want to find out more about the history of the Huns.
OK. You know I like the book by now, enough to get the next one and move it to the top of my reading list. So what are the negatives? Just one for me (other than rippling muscles and silk shirts, but that is a personal problem), only one tiny, tiny bit. It was just two paragraphs long, but it made me chuckle. Szabo is a medical professional and the book takes us in and out of the hospital and ER. Once, and only once for a very short paragraph or two, she preached to me about how nurses are treated in hospitals. But, it is forgivable - certainly nothing that detracted from my enjoyment of reading this book.
Now I must go continue reading the second book: Chosen by the Sword.
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