Wednesday, November 05, 2008

"Hood", by Stephen R. Lawhead (Atom)

The Norman conquest of England is complete – but for one young man the battle has only just begun

When Prince Bran’s father is murdered by Norman soldiers, he flees to London seeking justice. The journey is long and hard – and the suffering of those he meets along the way fuels his anger. With his demands dismissed, Bran has no choice but to return home, where a worse fate awaits him. His lands have been confiscated and his people enslaved by a brutal and corrupt regime. Should Bran flee or protect his people by surrendering to his father’s murderers? The answer, perhaps, is known only to the Raven King – a creature of myth and magic born of the forest’s darkest shadows. Stephen R. Lawhead’s Hood brings to life the legend of Robin Hood as never before.

There have been many retellings of the Robin Hood legend, from the film Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves to Tony Robinson’s children’s series Maid Marian and Her Merry Men. Some are more irreverent than others. Although a far more literary tale, Lawhead’s Hood also plays fast and loose with the legend. Lawhead lifts Robin out of Sherwood and relocates him in Wales, in the eleventh century, as an early British freedom fighter. Lawhead argues his case for doing so in a short essay at the end of the book, but really, he needn’t have worried. His story speaks for itself. As Lawhead says, the original legend was no more than an amorphous body of popular songs and poems about a lovable rascal whose name was uncertain and who lived someplace on the island of Britain at some unknown time in the past. Lawhead provides evidence to back up his theory that the original source of the legend was Wales, but, like fairy tales, the character of Robin Hood is now part of the collective consciousness and as such, up for grabs.

Hood follows the deposed Prince Bran of Elfael as he grows into a man, on his quest to save his country from the occupying Normans, and avenge the murder of his father. The majority of the familiar characters turn up – Friar Tuck, Little John, Maid Marian – but none of them are as you might expect. The forest that Bran and his band of rebels retreat to is almost a character in its own right: thick, dark and leafy, it has a presence and a magic all its own. It is in this forest that Bran will meet Angharad, a woman of power, and it is here that he will come to know himself more fully. The forest is the home of the mysterious Raven King, and it is this nightmarish figure that seems to be the Welsh people’s best hope against the tyranny of the Normans. But what is the Raven King’s connection to Bran, and is the creature, or Bran, all he seems?

Lawhead’s writing is fast-paced and well-plotted, shifting between the Norman and Welsh perspectives. Characters are well-rounded and the landscape of the eleventh century is vividly detailed. He deals confidently with the legend, and seamlessly adds his own touches to the story.

This is a must-read for fans of Lawhead’s other works, readers of historical fiction, Bernard Cornwell, David Gemmel, Rosemary Sutcliff, Conn Iggulden and Robin Hobb.

Reviewed by Emma Newrick

(Scarlet, the second in the series was published by Atom in August, and the third in the series - Tuck - will be published mid-2009.)

No comments:

Post a Comment