Hood provides a whole new look into the Robin Hood legend. It is a richly written tapestry of late 11th Century Britain. The enemy are the Normans (and the Frank). It’s told primarily from the protagonist’s (aka Bran Bendigedig, the Hood) perspective and uses the etiquette, pacing and milieu of the day for dialog, action and relationships. I thoroughly enjoyed this even if my teenage boys found it a bit slow.
Stephen Lawhead provides a compelling argument in the supplement to the book “Robin Hood in Wales” to move the Robin Hood we know and love from Sherwood Forest (and indeed from being English) to being a Welshman in Wales. The reason I bring this up is this sets the tone for the book and is indicative of Mr. Lawhead’s writing. He is thorough in his research and, as I indicated above, the subsequent setting of his book and the way the dialog and action move forward is directed by this thoroughness. He writes as if this could have been a personal history.
This passage is indicative of the book; it set when Bran, Iwan (former knight of Bran’s father the King) and Ffreol a monk, leave London (flee really) and discuss their plight while staying the night at safe house:
They did not stay in Lundein again that night but fled the city sprawl as if pursued by demons. The moon rose nearly full and the sky remained clear, so they rode on through the night, stopping only a little before dawn to rest the horses and sleep. Bran had little to say the next day or the day after. They reached the oratory, and Brother Aethelfrith prevailed upon them to spend the night under his roof, and for the sake of wounded Iwan, Bran agreed. While the friar scurried about to prepare a meal for his guests, Bran and Ffreol took care of the horses and settled them for the night. “It isn’t fair,” muttered Bran, securing the tether line to the slender trunk of a beech tree. He turned to Ffreol and exclaimed, “I still don’t see how the king could sell us like that. Who gave him the right?” “Red William?” replied the monk, raising his eyebrows at the sudden outburst from the all-but-silent Bran. “Aye, Red William. He has no authority over Cymru.” “The Ffreinc claim that kingship descends from God,” Ffreol pointed out. “William avows divine right for his actions.” “What has England to do with us?” Bran demanded. “Why can’t they leave us alone?” “Answer that,” replied the monk sagely, “and you answer the riddle of the ages. Throughout the long history of our race, no tribe or nation has ever been able to simply leave us alone.”
Lawhead, Stephen (2006-09-05). Hood: The King Raven Trilogy – Book 1 (Kindle Locations 1447-1459). Thomas Nelson. Kindle Edition.
Here’s a bit of a key to help with the above passage: Lundein is London – Red William is William II (the Red), third son of William I (the Conqueror), Cymru – equivalent of Wales and the Welch but they would find that term offensive and Ffreinc -or the Frank were confederation of tribes in Gaul, most of which became modern France.
So, it behooves you to enter into the King Raven Trilogy with a fresh mindset. Toss away your preconceived notions of Robin Hood and dive into the tale. The Normans believe the Cymru are savages, the Cymru believe the Normans are not only usurpers but break their word and live too close together in dirty villages.
While this a tale of the domineering Normans against the Cymru, there is less righteous outrage than one might suppose. Even under their own leaders, life was difficult. Now it is terrible but they work to weather the storm. Bran is reluctant to take on the mantle of leadership when he is unable to lead freely. His journey is not over-sentimentalized. His friends, indeed Bran himself, are not made to appear perfect victims of the baddies.
This novel really is about the journey from a free-spirited youth to a leader, the relationships that develop and the hardships and losses endured. It is about the quiet strength of a people, determination in the midst of oppression and to Mr. Lawhead’s credit, to perserver and acknowledgement of God’s sovereign hand in the worst of times. It is a journey tied to the land and its time. Even this book is the beginning of a journey; it’s part of the King Raven Trilogy that includes Scarlet and Tuck. This is a book with which to savor the journey as much as it is to follow the narrative for what happens next. To read a little more from one who loves the journey, check the Hood review on Sothis Medias.
One of the aspects that I appreciate about Mr. Lawhead is that while it depicts men in their full depravity, it doesn’t wallow in that depravity. It doesn’t dwell overmuch on violence or lurid sex. It describes them as they are part and parcel of the world but moves on. There does appear to be almost Druidical magic in the story but this power seems to really stem from herbs and plants.
I went between the Kindle and Audible versions. Adam Verner does an outstanding job with the challenging Welch names and overall language. His pacing is spot on, with Bran being quicker spoken than Iwan. Irritation, whininess and arrogance of just the right amounts come from Count Falkes de Braose voice. There are times that the period language is spoken quite slowly, but I suspect the pace of things were a bit slower to match. If you like audiobooks, you’ll enjoy this one.
If you are all about a swift story and roller-coaster ride action, this may not be for you. If you wish to soak up the forest and The Fens, the Normans and the Cymru and abbey and the village whilst putative brigands hold firm against the Norman wave, then this is a fabulous book in which to immerse yourself. I recommend it.