Steven Lawhead's Scarlet: The Fight for Freedom
The second book in the “King Raven” Trilogy by Stephen R. Lawhead
As a fan of the first book in the “King Raven Trilogy,” I was eager to read the second installment as soon as I finished the last page of Hood . I was anxious to see how the story continued, especially because this version of the Robin Hood legend doesn’t follow the established canon (there is no Sherwood Forest dweller clad in green tights and feathered cap in this series). I also hoped that the second book in the trilogy would match its predecessor in terms of excitement, pace, detail and character development. Thankfully, Scarlet fulfilled my hopes and exceeded my expectations.
Scarlet is the continuing story of Bran ap Brychan (meaning King Raven), the rightful king of Elfael. Denied the throne by the horde of Normans who’ve invaded his country, Bran and his band of loyal followers seek refuge in the dense Welsh forests of Elfael. Now under the rule of King William the Red and the men he has put in control of the land, the inhabitants of Elfael struggle to survive. Living under harsh laws and penalties and forced to work for their Norman lords, the people of Elfael desperately need a savior. Because of the heroic and daring deeds Bran and his followers (known as the Grellon) perform in service of their country, the people turn to Bran to save them.
It is in this time of trial and tribulation that the book’s title character makes his appearance. William Scatlocke, called Will Scarlet by his friends, joins the small band of warriors after William takes the Red invades his homeland. Proving himself a skilled ally, Will claims a place of honor amongst his new comrades. He helps the Grellon fight the Normans on numerous occasions, often getting the opportunity to show his mettle in battle, and discovers how intelligent his forest friends are. Secret passageways are hidden within the trees, clever ruses are designed to frighten and intimidate their enemies, and daring escapes are enacted right from underneath the Normans’ noses. But while the Welsh combat their enemy with stealth and skill, the Normans battle with strength and brute force. Will is captured during one of the Grellon’s secret missions and is sentenced to hang for his crimes. His rescue becomes the precedence for Bran and his followers, and the course of action they take leads to the discovery of a deadly plot against the King of England.
Building upon the foundations laid in Hood , this book continues to thrill the reader with scenes of action and suspense. The story is well paced and though the narrative switches back and forth between several different settings and characters, the story never gets confusing. The protagonists are interesting and empathetic, and through the eyes of a spectator, the audience comes to understand the reasoning behind the villains’ ways.
A great addition to the story is the introduction of first-person narration. While Hood was told completely in third-person narration, most of Scarlet is told from the perspective of Will Scarlet. This adds depth and insight to the story. Because Will enters the tale as an outsider, we become reintroduced to the characters from the first book as he meets them, and experience the action from behind his eyes. Therefore, the journey Will goes on throughout the book helps the audience to become more emotionally involved.
However, the first-person narration also makes the violence more realistic. Violence is prevalent, even more so than in Hood . This book is realistic, gritty and at times unforgiving. It offers a compelling view of the struggles the Grellon are forced to endure through the eyes of Will Scarlet. As a result the reader feels every defeat, injury and offense as if they were experiencing it themselves. Certain instances of brutality that Will endures at the hands of his Norman captors make the reader cringe, and the battles the Grellon fight are intense.
But despite it’s violence and the occasional tedious paragraph, Scarlet is a compelling story of heroism and courage. It encourages the reader to take a journey of faith alongside Bran’s greenwood Grellon. Regardless of enormous odds, failures, treachery and betrayal, the small band of loyal Welshmen persevere and fight to overcome. There is much to admire and draw from this well crafted tale, and at the end of the book the reader learns that the battle not yet over, but that the best is yet to come.