Forty-three-year-old Sam’s secure life is unraveling. It’s not just that her marriage ended two years ago, or that her job leaves her exhausted, or even that her son has essentially become a food-and-laundry-services-only visitor. It’s the combination of a cryptic phone call from her doctor’s office and the crushing claws of an improperly imprinted raptor that spin Sam down an entirely new adventure as an apprentice in the art of falconry.
Since an apprentice needs a sponsor, Sam considers friendly Mary Kate or knowledgeable Mike, but unfortunately neither is close enough geographically for it to work. Instead, they suggest the best choice is clearly the mysterious (bordering on surly) Hank Gerard. He has experience raising and flying a wide variety of birds. So with gentle prodding, she and Hank become sponsor and apprentice, and Samantha’s life changes forever. She’s no longer a lonely, harried corporate marketing executive. She’s a falconer in training.
Unfortunately, she’s a would-be falconer fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis. Sam tries valiantly to keep up with this physically demanding new hobby, but both the disease and the chemotherapy intended to cure it put a strain on her efforts. Readers may find it improbable that someone going through cancer treatment will feel up to full tilt running through a field a few days after chemo. Some patients will, of course, but some won’t. It might pull some readers out of the story if they have had a rough experience themselves or know someone who has.
Sam’s challenges of learning the art of falconry progress alongside her chemo treatments, and the growing tension between her and her sponsor: “The next step is a psychological one, too, and probably the biggest. He has to jump from his perch and come toward you in order to get his meal, now. In other words, he’s jumping toward the big scary thing—you.” (p. 119)
It comes as no surprise that the author is an expert instructor at West Coast Falconry. The company is based in Northern California and offers classes, instruction and public education in the 5000-year-old sport.
The Apprentice transports the reader to a raw, natural world, one with fields of sweet smelling sage, soaring hawks and diving falcons. The language and beauty of falconry is woven expertly into the narrative, providing the reader a glimpse into a rarified world while providing believable, relatable characters.