by Stephen R. Lawhead
For reasons I don't entirely understand, I've always had a fascination with Robin Hood. I had a general fascination with archery as a child, and it may be that there was something about a character with a reputation for being such a skilled bowman that drew my attention. Maybe it was the entirely to numerous viewings of Prince of Thieves (which, awful though it may be, holds a special place in my heart) as a youth. Who knows? Whatever the case, the fascination is there, and it combined with my belief that I probably should have read something by Stephen Lawhead by now that caused me to grab Hood and bring it on my trip to Maine in July.
Hood is not just a retelling, but a reimagining. Not content to simply rehash the same old story, Lawhead transplants the story of Robin Hood into Wales in the year 1093. The Sherrif of Nottingham and King John are replaced with the Norman overlords, who are busy asserting their power in Wales at the expense of the local Welsh lords. The role of Robin Hood himself is taken on by Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, after his father is killed by the Normans while he travels to London to negotiate with them. Friar Tuck, Little John, Guy of Gisborne, and the Maid Marian all make appearances, though all changed to greater or lesser extents from the common vision of them.
Being the first part of a trilogy, Hood is less about the exploits of Bran, and more of an "origin story", detailing Bran's transformation from apathetic prince to rebel leader. Lawhead weaves an element of Celtic mysticism into the tale as well, which may be jarring to readers, but ultimately feels right within the context of the story. The major plot twists and turns come from the machinations of the Norman overlords, while Bran's story is relatively straightforward, though still fun and entertaining all the same.
Bran does not get all of the screen time, however, as the story jumps back and forth between him, other members of the eventual band, and several priests and dukes besides. Questions of religion and faith pop up surprisingly often for a Robin Hood tale--at least, more than I would have expected.
Hood is, by and large, and good Robin Hood story. It has humor, action, grief, drama, betrayal, and mystery, all in varying but appropriate doses. Some readers may find Lawhead's use of alternative spellings and archaic language off putting, but once you get into the book, it flows fairly quickly. If I have a complaint, it's that the book is a story unfinished, and while I don't begrudge the idea of reading the next installment, I find it frustrating to get to the end of a story without there being, well, an ending.
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