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Gerfalcon    by Leslie Barringer order for
by Leslie Barringer
Order:  USA  Can
Newcastle, 1976 (1927)
* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

Gerfalcon is one of the best fantasy novels that I have ever read, and most people have never heard of it. It is the first book in Barringer's Neustrian Cycle, a trilogy set in a mythical medieval French kingdom (around the 14th century), in which witchcraft is real and ghosts can be questioned. It was written by an English newspaperman in 1927 and re-published in 1976 as a 'forgotten fantasy.'

This is the story of Raoul, young dreamer and heir to the barony of Marckmont ... 'a blend of elf and owl and boy.' Raoul is a sensitive, intelligent youth who does not fit well into his brutal environment; he prefers reading and songwriting to fighting. His uncle, the Count of Ger, believes him 'headed for the cloister.' Raoul's world is best introduced by an extract from his Ballade of Ger:

The sunlit streets of Hautarroy
Are filled with ladies, fair and free;
By garth and pleasance of Honoy
The roses riot on tower and tree.
The wine's deep red in Beltany,
And many a lance is splintered there;
But give to me the northern sea
And the iron crags of windy Ger.

At seventeen, Raoul is chafing under the contemptuous wardship of his uncle and grieving over the death of his beloved grandmother Adela. When his uncle and cousin go to the tourney at Belsaunt, Raoul is left behind but he takes off on his own with the connivance of Reine, a distant cousin. In Belsaunt he glimpses Yseult and falls for her beauty.

When his uncle gives him a public lashing for the escapade, Raoul runs away. He deals with attempted murder; saves a witch from a beating; and is wounded helping Lys and Red Anne (Mistress of the Witches' Coven of the Singing Stones). Red Anne is rescued by Lorin, vicious Butcher of Campscapel and his Riders and Raoul (now Herluin) is taken along with them as a page.

The Butcher's hold is full of danger and Lys saves Raoul's life and loves him. When the Butcher captues and tortures the Count and Countess of Saint-Aunay, Raoul takes action and escapes. He saves a child in the forest and takes her to Montenair where his tale is not believed - 'I have lied most valiantly and been believed; when I tell the truth I am laughed at.' He is sent back to Ger in disgrace. But Raoul escapes again, continues his adventures and finally comes into his inheritance and more.

Gerfalcon is a marvellous fantasy tale, interspersed with poetry and full to the brim of non-stop action, chivalry and romance. Unfortunately it is long out of print, but copies are available from rare book stores and they're worth the effort ...

Prince, in the van of your command
Look for me, when the trumpets blare,
Sword in hand for the sounding strand
And the iron crags of windy Ger!

I also highly recommend the remaining two books in the Neustrian cycle - Joris of the Rock and Shy Leopardess - if you can find them.

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