Title & buy link: City Falcon
Author: Feliz Faber
Buy link: Amazon.com (Second Edition)
Publisher: Dreamspinner Press
Genre: M/M contemporary
Length: Novelette (40 PDF pages)
Rating: 4.75 stars out of 5
A guest review by Leslie S
Review summary: An intelligent, honest, and at times heartbreaking read with a unique setting and strong characters.
This review contains what may be considered as SPOILERS
Ornithologist Hunter Devereaux lost everything in the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait and was forced to go underground as a matter of survival. He’s just getting back to his feet, hiding among the native falconers at the Dubai Falcon Hospital, when a phone call from America threatens to drag his secret past to light and tear down the walls he’s built around his broken heart.
It’s 1993, and for the past three years Hunter Devereaux has concealed his identity and been living and working under the name Sayad Al-Burayd as a falconer at the Dubai Falcon Hospital. His cover is blown when he receives a phone call from his former mentor, Dr John ‘Greg’ Gregory, who wants Hunter to join him on a project in the US. Greg also believes that Hunter is wasting his talents as a top class ornithologist and has concerns for Hunter’s emotional state in a country where homosexuality is illegal. But before Hunter can leave Dubai, he must finally be honest with Hamid—the man who saved his life in the desert, and who is now his friend and lover.
Eight years ago, Hunter left the US to work for a Kuwaiti prince, Faris, also a falconer. Hunter and Faris were lovers, even though Faris was married. Faris was the first big love of Hunter’s life, and Hunter suffers disillusionment and heartbreak when he first arrives in Kuwait. Accustomed to the affectionate and loving relationship he and Faris enjoyed in America, where they’d lived together openly, in Faris’ homeland the reality is completely different. Hunter thought he was prepared for it, but he wasn’t. Faris becomes cold and distant, even threatening violence on one occasion. Hunter knows the relationship is going nowhere, but he’s in love with Kuwait as much as he’s in love with Faris.
On a hunting trip into the desert, Hunter decides to break up with Faris. But Faris acts open and loving towards him, and Hunter is confused. The following day sees the Iraqi invasion of Kuwait, and Faris and Hunter are torn apart under horrifying circumstances. Hunter swears to get his revenge, even if it costs him his life.
Three years later, telling the truth to Hamid could also spell disaster for Hunter…
Desert Falcon is a strong novella that packs an emotional punch. There’s two threads to the story—the 1993 ‘present’ narrative and, through Hunter’s conversation with Hamid, the ‘past’ of 1990. Told from Hunter’s POV in first person, the result is an immersive and deeply personal tale that feels real in every way.
The story’s greatest strength is in its attention to detail. Though sparing with her words, the author nevertheless paints a vivid picture of time and place. Little things like the way Hunter crouches and rests beneath the portico while he waits, or the way Hamid views the world, all add authentic touches. Another of the book’s strengths is the simplicity of the language and phrasing, which makes the narration feel masculine, as well as complementing the arid desert setting and the pain Hunter carries within him.
Here’s an example of the writing, the mix of details and simplicity. Many readers will have seen falconry demonstrations at one time or another, and in this strong visual passage we share the emotions of a falconer exercising his birds:
Flying my falcons in the desert had always been my purest joy and my refuge. My falcon left my upraised fist and climbed the sky, her wings gilded by the setting sun. I waited until she circled high above me, just barely visible, then let out my call and started to twirl the lure. Thousands of times had I done this, but still my heart beat faster when the falcon plummeted down at breathtaking speed.
The dynamics of Hunter’s relationships with Faris and Hamid are compared and contrasted in a beautifully understated way. I really appreciated this aspect of the story: the complications that arise from the Arab silence surrounding homosexuality—not quite condoning, but not condemning outright, either. It’s something known but not acknowledged. Feliz Faber never moralises or shoves the facts down the readers’ throats—she simply uses her characters to show how things are, how things must be, and demonstrates how homosexuality fits (and doesn’t fit) into Arab culture and tradition. After all those whitewashed Harlequin sheikhs, Desert Falcon provides welcome relief with believable opinions and attitudes.
This isn’t a light-hearted read. It’s thoughtful, serious, and above all, it’s honest. That might seem a strange thing to say about a book in which the main character hides his true identity for much of the time, but it is brutally honest, painfully honest, and it will tug at your heart.
Desert Falcon is part of Dreamspinner’s Bittersweet Dreams line, which means no happy ending. This can be a deal-breaker to some readers, but to those readers I say—try this anyway! The setting is so different, so fresh and unique, and the story is so realistic and well told, that the lack of a happy ending doesn’t get in the way of the pleasure of being immersed in this tale.