P12-116: Book Review: The Raven King Trilogy

Project 2012: Day 116

Stephen R. Lawhead is one of my favourite authors. I first read him as a teenager when I was blown away by his Space Opera “Empyrion” That is still one of my all time favourite stories.

So when one of my favourite authors tackles one of my favourite characters, the “terrorist” (that’s what he’d be today, right) Robin Hood, I had to give this rendition a go.

Stephen takes a slightly different approach to the Sherwood Forest based freedom fighter, set in Nottingham. According to his research, at the time of Hood, Sherwood Forest was already bound, and virtually domesticated. However, the “March” in the South-West of the UK, bordering Cymry, or Wales, was still wild. Raided by the Irish from the West, and England enslaved by the Normans from the South-East, this was a veritable wild land perfect for a band of guerrilla fighters.

Robin is a well constructed character, party-loving son of a local Welsh border king, whose father and war-band is murdered, then he’s cheated out of his inheritance. He has all of the training, and motive, to go feral.

At times the pace is slow, but overall I loved this fresh take on the legend of old. This was far more credible than the Disney-ised, saccharin sweet version we’ve become accustomed to. Life in the middle ages was rough, cruel, and violent. Then uprooting refugees and living in the wilds of the forest, without even the crude resources of the time (such as wells, buildings, etc.) would have been harder still. Not romantic visions of merry men in trees that we’re led to believe. The original “Hunger Games” if you like.


Book #1 Hood

In Hood, the plot is set-up for the rest of the story. We meet Robin of course (or Rabyn y Hud), the playboy who turns freedom fighter, and becomes the phantom of the forest, the Raven King. The story is told from his perspective, but in the third person.

We also meet Little John, Friar Tuck, Maid Marion (Meryn), and a great character: Earth Mother, Druid, Witch, Healer? All these and more. The saviour, guardian, mentor, and guide to Robin as his character transforms.

We also meet the antagonists: The Sheriff, Bishop, Counts, and the Norman King, the Red Bastard. All of the action is set against the political scheming of the Normans, and its impact on England at the turn of the last Millennium.

Book #2 Scarlet

We meet Will Scarlet in this book. For the first half he narrates from his place in a dungeon, awaiting his execution. He’s dictating his story to a monk, on the premise that the monks masters, Will’s captors, can ascertain information about Rabyn y Hud.

This gives another fresh perspective to the story. In first person, from an outsider to the band, that becomes one of the most trusted accomplices.

I loved this story. No spoilers from here, but there are some great scenes establishing Hood’s disguises, and the cruelty of the rulers of the time.

Probably my favourite of the trilogy.

Book 3 Tuck

We flip back to 3rd person for Tuck, but from his, rather than Hood’s perspective. The narrative continues all the better for it. This irreverent man of God, at once true Christian, yet anti-establishment, and establishment at the time was church.  There’s all of the warrior monk in Tuck, yet true care for his flock.

This book takes Hood to the brink of annihilation, and the cusp of influencing a far greater plot to overthrow the Pope. Again, I love the way that Stephen has weaved the legend we know and love, with strong characterisation, against an historical story of intrigue that veritably set our civilisation: The rule of law, nation state, separation of church and government. It is at once a myth, yet satire on the biggest attack against Chritianity, secular leaders ascribing their evil plots to the name of Jesus.

Neither was I disappointed at the conclusion, as so often is the way after an epic trilogy.

Summary

If you want men in tights, prancing around a domestic Sherwood forest, then give this trilogy a miss. But if you want a cracking tale of political intrigue, action, transformation, love, and a fresh insight to the roots of Britain, you won’t be disappointed.

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