Thursday, 4 September 2014

'Ladyhawke' - Joan D. Vinge (Piccolo Books)

Captain Etienne Navarre is a man on whose shoulders lie a cruel curse. Punished for loving each other, Navarre must become a wolf by night whilst
his lover, Lady Isabeau, takes the form of a hawk by day. Together, with the thief Philippe Gaston, they must try to overthrow the corrupt Bishop and in doing so break the spell...

So, am I comfort reading again? Yes, yes I am. The way things are at the moment, this blog would be a desolate and empty place if I left all the comfort reading out. Just bear with me a little longer and I'll be back to the good stuff before you know it (and I'll spare you the childhood reminiscing this time round, I supect there's only so much about cheese on toast that anyone can reasonably be expected to hear).


Did you watch the film or read the book first? As far as I was concerned, I didn't even realise that there was a film until some years later and, looking back, I think that was a good thing. Yep, I'm talking about the awful eighties 'disco' soundtrack that accompanies Rutger Hauer fighting the Bishop's Guard (trying his manful best to ignore it as he does so) I'm sure a little piece of me died when I saw the film for the first time and the music started playing. But the book though…

I've had my copy of 'Ladyhawke' for almost thirty years and it still hasn't lost its power to utterly captivate me. I start reading and that's it, I'm in the story until it finishes. 'Ladyhawke' is by no means a classic and doesn't do an awful lot that is different. A curse is a curse wherever you go and this is very much the deal here. Where Vinge makes things shine though is her characterisation and how this shows through when you actually see Navarre and Isbeau have that 'almost together' moment on the cusp of dawn. There's a part of me that is an old romantic and it never fails to make me well up a little to see two people in love who can't be together
because of evil magic. Vinge also has a happy knack of being able to get inside her characters heads and really lay them bare in such a way that you can't help but will them on. Navarre comes across as one dimensional initially but he is anything but once Vinge lets you into his head.

But I was saying, two lovers that can never be together... What was I talking about? Of course they will be together! I told you that this is a book that doesn't do an awful lot differently and the outcome is never really in doubt (hence the comfort read) despite some moments where you wonder what could happen. The final chapters are stirring affairs that rush the reader headlong into the final outcome whilst still giving the reader a feeling of doubt (especially when the bells ring, you'll know what I mean if you've read the book/seen the film). It's a heady mixture that still keeps my eyes on the page, even though this is a book that I must have read
dozens of times now.

It's no secret then (and definitely not a spoiler) that the ending is a happy one; like a medieval fairy tale with loads of grim bits but a hefty dose of morals at the end. Everyone gets what they deserve and this kind of ending doesn't really gel with the 'grimdark' tone of todays fantasy fiction. There's still a place for it though and I'd say a very necessary one. Our world may not be one for happy endings but fiction tells us that happy endings can happen and it's important for us to know this. 'Ladyhawke' does this very well indeed and there are enough second hand
copies floating about out there for you to get some of those good vibes
too. I'd thoroughly recommend it in fact.


  1. Was this a novel first, or did Vinge write a novelization of the movie? I always thought it was the latter. Regardless, if it's as good as you say, I may have to check it out. I've always loved the movie, soundtrack and all - although I'd describe is as more prog rock than disco. :)

  2. I always thought the movie came first but I'm happy to be proved wrong as the book is superior in my opinion. Are far as the soundtrack goes, it's been ages since I saw the film so I'll swap disco for prog rock ;o) I just seem to remember synthesizers that had no place in a film like Ladyhawke...