Hood by Stephen R Lawhead
|Hood by Stephen R Lawhead|
|Genre: Historical Fiction|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: An interesting and entertaining first instalment giving a revisionist twist to the Robin Hood legend. Well written, and full of familiar conventions and tropes, it will appeal to all fans of the genre if perhaps a little too drawn-out for the non-fan.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: 448||Date: June 2007|
With their conquest of England complete, and the Conqueror's son, William Rufus, on the throne, the Normans are turning their eyes towards Wales, still stubbornly populated by British kings refusing to do much more than pretend to bow a knee in the direction of the hated Frankish invaders. The Welsh still regard the Anglo Saxons as foreigners. But they are few and the Normans are many and resistance is beginning to crumble. When Bran ap Brychan's father is murdered, he seeks justice at court - but it is not forthcoming. And when he returns to his land of Elfael, he finds his place usurped by an effete Norman count and his life forfeit. Bran repairs to the dark of the forest and from there he wages his own particular brand of war against the corrupt regime. He is not alone - by his side is the Raven King, creature of myth and magic.
I'm a sucker for myth and legend. Find me a retelling of any of the ancient stories and I'll read it. Try to remove subsequent centuries of alteration and take me back to what the myth might have been before, and I'll drool with anticipation. So Hood, which uproots Robin Hood from Nottingham and the reign of Richard the Lionheart and replaces him in Wales shortly after the Norman Conquest, was right up my myth and legend alley. And I wasn't disappointed. It's a great book, full of all the tropes and conventions a fan of historical fantasy could ask for. There's questing, there's a reluctant hero, there are overwhelming odds to be faced. It's all fabulous fun. Interestingly, religion is a strong theme running through the book as an addition to the original myth. Here we see ancient Celtic religion pitted against the early Christian mores of acceptance and forgiveness, which are in turn in conflict with the Norman views on divine right. The magical aspects of Hood are fairly muted - I like this, for me the history's the thing - but are more about faith than magic and are tied into the general musings on religion.
I didn't really fall for Bran - he was a little bit too reluctant a hero for me, but as Hood is the first of a trilogy, Lawhead has the time yet to allow him to chisel his way into the reader's heart. And perhaps this is a good thing. We don't want it all straight away - and the narrative provides a satisfactory start. Enough happens and is resolved to be happy finishing the book, but there's enough going on to be able to look forward to the next one. Inevitably, a trilogy based on sketchy details such as this will be too wordy for some. Hood is a book that will appeal mostly to the genre fan - it gets a bit stodgy in the middle section if all you're looking for is a speedy narrative progression. But we myth and legend buffs don't mind that. In fact, we like it.
Hood is nicely written with some wonderful descriptive passages and a host of multi-dimensional characters and it paints an evocative and well-researched picture of eleventh century life. It's published under the young adult Atom imprint and is perfectly pitched for this audience, but it would also make a great holiday read for adults (me) or provide an accessible staging point for keen-reading tweens of about twelve and up.
Roll on book two!
My thanks to the very nice people at Atom for sending the book.
Slightly younger children interested in historical fantasy will love Michelle Paver's Chronicles of Ancient Darkness.
Reviews of other books by Stephen R Lawhead
Hood by Stephen R Lawhead is in the Top Ten Retellings of Myths, Legends and Fairy Tales.
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