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Their Smiling Fields

Master of Hawks  (Master of Hawks, volume 1)

By Linda E. Bushyager 

9 Oct, 2022

Because My Tears Are Delicious To You

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1979’s Master of Hawks, while it can be read as a stand-alone, is also the first of two novels in Linda E. Bushyager’s Master of Hawks fantasy series. 

The tiny kingdom of York embodies all the virtues one might wish in a magical feudal society. Too bad for York that it is next on the Taral Empire’s shopping list. York has fewer soldiers and fewer sorcerers than Taral. York may have the edge in cunning but that will not be sufficient. 

The man known as Hawk may be York’s best hope, and not merely because of his telepathic powers.

Hawk’s name reflects the nature of his gift: he can communicate with and control birds of all kinds. This makes him a natural choice to reconnoiter the empire’s forays towards York. Scouting is a dangerous occupation. Hawk only barely survives an encounter with Taral’s Jaxton Sinclair, who in addition to sorcery has the same telepathic gifts as Hawk and an inclination to use them homicidally. 

Armed with Hawk’s information, York is able to outmaneuver the invaders, leading them into lethal ambushes. This will not be sufficient. Like so many malevolent empires before them, the empire has vast reserves. York’s best efforts can only buy the kingdom time, not victory. For victory, it needs allies.

The Sylvans see humans as pitiful inferiors. Thus, they have heretofore taken no interest in human squabbles. Their discovery that the empire has designs on Sylvan forests forces the aloof forest people to reconsider. Perhaps this once they will ally with humans, provided those humans are the empire’s enemies. 

Preferring as he does life in the forest, Hawk seems a good choice of emissary. He is accompanied by Ro, an eighth-Sylvan1 woman whose gifts include an inborn immunity to magic. Together, they might manage to convince the Sylvans to place their unique life-magic at York’s disposal … but only if Hawk and Ro can pass the Sylvans’ onerous test. 

Unbeknownst to Hawk, Jaxton Sinclair has discovered some very interesting facts about Hawk. Not least of them: it is no coincidence their powers are so similar. They are, after all, brothers. That won’t stop Jaxton from murdering Hawk, but it may provide Jaxton with the edge he needs to do it. 


That cover screams late 1970s Dell fantasy”. The artist was Maelo Cintron. Cintron got a fair amount of work from Dell back in the day.

At the risk of crapping on other people’s childhood favourites, the greatest virtues this novel offers are brevity and stand-aloneishness. That second virtue is one that many fantasy novelists discarded in the decade to come, thanks to the discovery that many readers were willing to settle for the veriest whisper of closure, several or many books down the road. 

Well, wait. There’s one more virtue. Points to the empire for providing antagonists who for all their preening villainy, never lose sight of the fact they are engaged in a group effort. No self-sabotaging chronic backstabbing for them: there is backstabbing but only in pursuit of goals that materially advance the empire’s cause. Case in point: the reaction of the lead villainess (evil sexy Jessica) to discovering that Jaxton has commandeered a potent magic item is to provide him with pointers on how to use it more effectively2 rather than trying to steal it for herself. 

Commercial fantasies of those distant times modeled themselves on different writers and books than they would in later years. In this case, Bushyager’s inspiration appears to be Andre Norton’s speculative fiction. There are Norton-esque psychic gifts, bonds between humans and animals, and a thoroughly unconvincing romance. About the only thing missing is an interdimensional gate. 

Otherwise, Master of Hawks offers very little to distinguish it from other run of the mill commercial fantasies of this era. The vocabulary is unremarkable save for an excess of apostrophes in names and some Disco-Era turns of phrase. The setting is a bog-standard faux-mediaeval collection of feudal kingdoms3. The characters are largely flat and unremarkable4, which makes it harder to care what happens to these people. The plot is in no way noteworthy. 

At least it’s better than Xanth.

Many utterly mediocre fantasy novels have been very, very successful. It’s no surprise, therefore, that the novel is still widely available.

Master of Hawks is available here (Amazon US), here (Amazon Canada), here (Amazon UK), here (Barnes & Noble), and here (Book Depository).

Master of Hawks is not available from Chapters-Indigo, even though the sequel and an unrelated novel by Bushyager are.

1: The Sylvans being enormously bigoted, this is less of an asset than one
might expect. Sylvans grudgingly tolerate male Sylvan-human babies,
because they are sterile, but female mixed-race offspring are fertile.
They are disposed of (humanely or otherwise) lest they contaminate the
Sylvan gene pool with human traits.

2: The team ethic is somewhat undermined by the fact that Jaxton murdered the magic item’s previous owner. Had that person ever bothered to learn how to use it properly, Jaxton would not have been able to kill him. However, by murdering the fool, Jaxton improves the empire’s odds of victory. So I guess we could count this as a win for the team.

Jaxton is also planning on murdering his nephew at some point, but only because the boy combines comparative helplessness with being a dynastic impediment to Jaxton’s career goals. 

3: The setting has some contemporary-seeming elements, such as burlesque shows, which suggest that this may be a future Earth, recovered from some unspecified disaster. I suspect the primary god’s name, N’Omb, may be intended as a hint that this is set in the future. If only I could guess at the referent. 

4: There’s one character who isn’t flat: Hawk and Ro’s mutual friend Derek. He’s notable because his bitter homophobic misogyny is actively off-putting. Derek is the third side of a romantic triangle clearly intended to complicate the plot. The triangle is implausible because it’s hard to believe Ro could like him, let alone love him.