This review contains minor spoilers for The Nameless Day.
The Wounded Hawk is the second installment in Sara Douglass’s epic historical fantasy trilogy, The Crucible. The winner of Aurealis Award for Best Fantasy Novel in 2001, this impressive novel is much more than just a placefiller leading up to the trilogy conclusion, The Crippled Angel.
Many of the major plot developments in the series take place here, as well as substantial world building and further characterisation of each of the many participants in the dangerous game playing out between various factions both earthly and celestial. This is where the series really comes into its own as Douglass takes her readers on a gripping journey, dazzling in its scope and encompassing countless unexpected twists and turns.
The Wounded Hawk begins a few months after the events of The Nameless Day, with Thomas Neville having narrowly escaped serious reprimand for casting aside his vows to the church, and continuing his search for the mysterious casket that holds the key to wiping the demons off the face of the earth. Although he now shelters under the protection of his childhood friend Hal (Henry) of Bolingbroke, and his powerful father John of Gaunt, Neville has many enemies both known and unknown to him. Some seek to prevent the success of his quest while others act upon their own, more personal vendettas. Furthermore, the war between England and France continues, while beneath society’s surface stirs civil unrest, sowing the seeds of rebellion amongst noblemen and peasants alike.
Once again Douglass showcases her remarkable talents for genre blending and combining multiple narratives while maintaining pace and keeping the reader interested. Innumerable subplots simultaneously unfold in various locations throughout Europe, yet all interweave and their various repercussions significantly impact the story as a whole. Her prose flows effortlessly and contains just the right amount of description to absorb the reader in the sights and sounds of this alternate fourteenth century without becoming tedious or excessive.
Throughout The Wounded Hawk, Douglass does an excellent job of developing and offering further insight into the characters we met in the previous novel while introducing many more into the fray. Our perceptions of certain characters are challenged as they reveal further motives and ambitions and develop in response to the events that unfold around them. A cold-hearted political player may reveal a softer, more human side, while a previously irreproachable character may act ruthlessly when their interests are threatened. Even the most despicable characters are, more often than not, a product of their environment and just as prone to manipulation by their peers.
Alliances can change in a heartbeat and almost no one is really who they seem. Neville, the protagonist who so irked readers in the first book, begins to show some redeeming qualities as he is torn between what he has always believed is right and what is now revealed to him.
The Wounded Hawk outdoes its predecessor tenfold when it comes to action and pacing. What’s more, it does this without neglecting other elements such as world building and charater development. Various schemes and promises, the foundations of which were laid in The Nameless Day, finally come into fruition in The Wounded Hawk. Battles are waged throughout England and France alike, countless plots unfold, and civil dissatisfaction within the English peasantry reaches breaking point. Do not make the mistake, however, of assuming that this novel only builds upon previously constructed narratives. Many exciting new developments are introduced to be resolved either within this novel or in the trilogy’s epic conclusion.
Gritty and confronting
The Crucible trilogy, in essence, is an extremely bold and gritty work of fantasy that doesn’t balk at the thought of gore or attempt to shirk possible controversy. The Wounded Hawk does contain a number of particularly confronting scenes and depictions of graphic violence, some of which are sexual in nature. Those who are averse to such content may want to give this one a miss. For those who are not deterred, most of these scenes are not merely gratuitous, but serve a purpose within the greater context of the story and aim to provoke thought in the reader. For instance an elaborate and rather shocking deception takes place in the course of the story that, while serving its distinct purpose, causes substantial hurt to various individuals. Desperate times may call for desperate measures, but do the ends really justify the means in this case? Or could a better way to the same goal have been found? One should also be aware that Douglass presents a unique reimagining of Christian mythos throughout the series that may be considered sacreligious or offensive to some readers. While some religious icons are portrayed in a sympathetic, though unconventional, light, many others come across far more negatively.
Why should you read this book?
This brilliant and daring example of character driven historical fantasy more than fulfills the promises of the previous book. It is an engrossing, well-plotted, and thought provoking novel with an interesting premise that is relatively unique in the fantasy genre. Even if you were unsure about The Nameless Day, The Wounded Hawk is definitely worth a look and has previously converted many critics of the series. If you have enjoyed The Crucible trilogy so far, I would strongly recommend that you get your hands on a copy of this as soon as possible. It may also be wise to grab a copy of the third installment, The Crippled Angel, while you’re at it, as once you start reading you may find yourself not wanting to stop or endure a tortourously suspenseful wait to find out what happens next.