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Book Review of Stephen Lawhead's Hood Series
The Story is set in wales and the characters are known for the most part. What is interesting is that this series takes Robin hood out of the Sherwood forest of England and puts him in Wales. Furthermore, the typical villain, the sheriff of Nottingham, is discarded. Nor is there a Richard the Lion heart to be found in this story.
What you will find is Rhi Bran the fallen prince of Elfael and a new twist to an old tale.
A sad beginning
Like most stories of merit Hood begins with a nice dynamic opening. The Ffreinc have taken over the land and the king is disposed of in the way that kings during that time were vacated from their throne. Bran is not introduced in this part as he is away from the riding party which he was to be a part of (quite convenient for him I would say).
Bran is introduced as an adult, but at the same time the reader gets the feeling that there is more adolescent in the man at this time then maturity. Stephen Lawhead does an excellent job in setting up the series for the main character to have a transformation on several levels. For example: Bran in one scene is pictured as the hormone crazed youth climbing in and out of windows to satisfy his gender's fancy. By making Bran the promiscuous haphazard man, the main character has room to grow into a mature individual capable of complex thought as well as matured emotion (such as love and a devotion to his people).
The main character is quickly thrown from his youth into an unwanted state of responsibility and adulthood after coming to the grim reality that he is his kingdom's last hope. Even with this knowledge our to be hero does not really emerge until he is forced into action. I find it quite humorous that the character like so many people that are emerging into adulthood either avoids a situation all together or goes in regardless of the outcome. Of course, the actions lead to more trouble (it would not be a good book if everything was just pleasant all the time) which eventually forces him into the forest.
An unusual character introduced
Unlike most Robin Hood stories that I have read, Hood presents a new way of understanding how he came to be the man of the woods. In most stories that I have read Robin Hood is somehow just endowed with the knowledge and skills that it would take to survive in the woods for long periods of time. The probability that a rich son would survive a day is highly improbable, and the odds of a rich son using the land to live for years as well as taking care of fellow citizens all while leading a rebellion is fiction at its best. This overlooked flaw in the traditional stories is brought to the light a little more clearly in Hood. The character needs a guide to mold him into the main character, and for that Angharad is introduced.
Angharad is the muse as well as the supernatural element in the story. The story eludes to her being some form of an angel or spirit but does not come out and say it. It is left up to the reader's interpretation. The lady is older than time itself it would appear and in those years she has acquired non measurable knowledge. This knowledge is passed to Rhi Bran and eventually one sees that the hero remains.
A brief summary of the first book
The first book, as stated, is focused on establishing the main character as Rhi Bran as well as introducing the King Raven into the story. There is also the need to make the reader feel the tension and injustice of the rulers of the land. As with any good work of fiction, Stephen Lawhead winds the reader into the book by showing that the common man is in peril and that neither the church nor the state (so to speak) will step in and intervene.
The book concludes with Rhi Bran racing back to the woods.
Starting book two:
The second book starts off on an entirely different path as the first book which may lead some readers to be disappointed at first. Where most books of a trilogy tend to pick up where the last book left off, Stephen Lawhead makes the reader connect the dots and tie the events together. There is no real since of elapsed time from the beginning of the tale to where the tale resumes which leads the reader to be somewhat confused as to the events that may have taken place. However, this is the point of the second book. It is one of those books which starts at the end and works to the beginning.
When reading the second book, one will see that Will Scarlet is introduced. In the prior book there is no mention to this character and so the entire book is devoted to this iconic figure of Robin Hood tales.
Politics and Fiction
Will is in prison at the beginning of the second book for Treason against the crown. This was a very common way for people to die in the time era of this book. Will is orating the tale of his adventures with Rhi Bran to a monk scribe (which may or may not lead the reader to wonder if the tale that is being told is in fact the truth or if it is false). Throughout this book we see that it is the monk that undergoes the character transformation as well as ourselves as more and more is revealed about Will Scarlet and his affiliations with the main character.
On the political side of things, this book is drenched with the corruption of the early church in regards to the want of power, money, and prestige. Furthermore, there are strong historical practices that are mentioned throughout the book. One example is the seizing of lands and the King's Forest. Another example would be the bonding of noble families to fix political ruffles.
Joining the books
The series would not be desirable to read if the books were separate tales without ties to the prior book. As mentioned earlier, Will Scarlet confesses to his monk scribe how he and Rhi Bran came to know one another. It also goes state how the main character and those of the wood contributed to Will's state of imprisonment.
As with the first book, Rhi Bran continues to evolve into a more mature and king like figure. In this book he takes on more and more of the leadership role and the adolescent traits are dropped. Love is introduced as well as revenge and hatred.
The book concludes on a climax and so the reader is forced to wonder how in one book the author will conclude the trilogy.
A book to tie things up
The final book takes off at a fast pace with the lead character being Tuck. There are many loose ends that are tied up in this book as it is the final book. Because of the amount of loose ends being concluded, one is advised to read the book at a slower pace in order to absorb the details.
As with the other books, book three revolves around the political tension over the land which has been taken from Rhi Bran. Things come to there high point and of course war is declared ( a book of this type cannot go the whole series without at least one war). Sides are chosen and tensions rise on both sides. A number of kings are put in the forefront, and a number of villains and heroes are put into the rear.
Conclusion and overall assement
Final Reaction to the series:
From a literary standpoint the Stephen Lawhead King Raven Trilogy is a work to be desired. There is romance, comedy, action, and of course adventure. Also, unlike the trend of modern books, Stephen Lawhead has kept the book free of excessive vulgarities. As far as the story is concerned, each book is wonderfully constructed and keeps the reader wanting to turn the page.
It is a great thing when a writer can take a traditional tale and put a spin on it that will make the tale appear as new.
I would recommend this book for leisure reading to those interested in a good adventure tale.