Hawkmistress was published a full decade after Darkover Landfall and returns readers to Bradley’s unique world during a time in its feudal past. The population is well established and has spread around the habitable parts of the planet. The early psychic powers experienced by the survivors stranded on Darkover have been bred and refined, through elaborate breeding programs, often with tragic results (StormQueen 1978).
Romilly MacAran, the daughter of a powerful feudal lord, has been blessed with a long pedigree and noble birthright. She is the only child to inherit the MacAran Laran, the psychic gift of being able to bond with hawks and horses. Sadly, this patriarchal society does not allow most women to inherit property or have much say in their destinies, especially not about who they can marry. When Romilly’s father promises her hand in marriage to an older man who has already buried three wives and take away the hawk that she trained herself, she risks the disproval of society to escape, leaving everything she knows behind. Disguised as a boy, she meets up with a band of outlaws loyal to the exiled king and joins their ranks as her adventure and destiny truly begin.
Set during the turbulent Age of Chaos and the evolution into Darkover’s Hundred Kingdoms, Hawkmistress is a classic that still stands the test of time thanks to Marion Zimmer Bradley’s incredibly engaging main character. This young woman refuses to have others decide her life for her and sets out to find a place where she can not only belong but be treated as an equal. The story explores, as many Darkover books do, the effects of gender stereotyping, prejudice and true independence. It was empowering to read as a teenager and totally delightful to read again as part of my nostalgia foray into the works of a truly amazing Sci-Fi writer.
Paperback format, 336 pages, published in 1982 by DAW Books.