Alfred of St. Ruan's Abbey is a monk and a scholar, a religious man whose vocation is beyond question. But Alfred is also, without a doubt, one of the fair folk, for though he is more than seventy years old by the Abbey's records, he seems to be only a youth.
But Alfred is drawn from the haven of his monastery into his dangerous currents of politics when an ambassador from the kingdom of Rhiyana to Richard Coeur de Leon is wounded and Alfred himself is sent to complete the mission. There he encounters the Hounds of God, who believe that the fair folk have no souls, and must be purged from the Church and from the world.
Like its predecessors, the final chapter in Judith Tarr's The Hound and the Falcon trilogy weaves fantasy and history with stunningly immersive effect. In The Hounds of God Alfred must leave behind the comfort and safety of St. Ruan's Abbey and confront an evil power seeking to eradicate the elf-born. When Alfred's beloved Thea is kidnapped, he ventures forth in search of her, his epic journey taking him from his besieged home of Rhiyana, to the halls of the Vatican, to the Sack of Constantinople. Betraying his three decades of experience on stage and screen, actor James Patrick Cronin brings raw urgency and medieval authenticity to the proceedings, and convincingly portrays Tarr's epic cast of elves, Crusaders, Byzantines, monks, and inquisitors.
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The Hound and the Falcon trilogy has long been one of my favorite fastasy/history series, and I am delighted that it is now available on Audible. Judith Tarr is deeply knowledgeable about Celtic legends, the Crusades and the medieval church, and she has created an internally consistent alternate reality compounded to the mix. Her characters are heroic but flawed, though most of the villains are thoroughly corrupted. Who would have thought that a question of the existence vel non of the human soul could be presented with such poignancy? The magic is not crude, cute or silly; it is integral to the story. Tarr is interested in how people know and touch each other; her magic is used mostly to create intimacies that most real people long for but never achieve.
Other books by Tarr. Alamut, a prequel to the Hound and the Falcon, is masterful. Tarr's focus on the challenges and vulnerabilities of interpersonal communication is reminiscent of Ursula LeGuin's Left Hand of Darkness. Tarr's work is not as epic as Tolkien, and it is more serious than Marion Zimmer Bradley's Darkover books, but I'd place them all near to each other on the bookshelf.
I must answer in more that three words. As a narrator and voice actor, Cronin is admirable. His voices fit the characters well, although he makes the deaf young man sound a bit doltish. However, I wish that Cronin had been better prepared to read the book. A few relatively unusual English words are mispronounced, which is irritating; worse still is that words relating specifically to the medieval world and the medieval church, names from the Bible and of Greek and Latin authors are almost always wrong and sometimes barely recognizable. Cronin obviously knows no French or Latin, and regularly mispronounces words in those languages, although he is master of a credible French accent. His recitation of Latin texts is hideous, betraying the fact that he has no idea what is saying or how it should be punctuated, and has no sensitivity to what is, after all, a metrical language.. I won't let these gripes ruin the book for me, but these frequent errors fall like screeching chalk on the blackboard. Shouldn't a professional reader check on pronunciations before he starts to perform?
Yes, I cried at the end. Attachment always brings suffering; the question is, is it worth it?
- Robin A. Gower "Robin"