For those unaware of the Robin Hood myth this review may contain spoilers.
Book Name: Hood
Author: Stephen Lawhead
Series: Book 1, King Raven Trilogy
Publisher(s): Thomas Nelson Publishers
Format(s): Trade & Mass Market Paperback/Audiobook/eBook
Genre(s): Historical fiction/Fantasy
Release Date: June 5th 2007
For those unfamiliar with the writings of Stephen Lawhead, his general style is to take the legends of long ago and research them to rewrite the stories as if they were in the time and setting they were most likely first told. In Hood Lawhead removes Robin Hood from Sherwood Forest in Nottingham and places him in Wales, and resets the timeline of the legend to the late eleventh century during the reign of William the Red and the Norman invasion of Wales.
Hood is the story of Bran ap Brychan, the son of a minor Welsh king. His world is thrown upside down as the Ffreinc begin to strangle the small kingdoms of Wales and insert their own nobility. Lawhead slowly reveals the story of Bran and the people of Elfael, and what we initially see in Bran is the typical pouting youth that wants no part of his royal linage but is constantly reminded of it at every turn. As with the well know Robin Hood myth, eventually Bran finds himself afoul of the new ruling class and after an arrest and escape is thought killed. It’s here that the real story of Bran, and the Hood, appears.
While generally following the legend Lawhead does a great job of expanding on some things and glossing over others that don’t fit into his telling of the story. He does an even better job of painting the Ffreinc as evildoers, and manages to do that without resorting to the clichés that many other authors use. His character building, both of Bran and Elfael, really advances the story and despite most knowing where the paths lead Lawhead somehow paints the picture in an entirely new light.
One of my two issues with Hood is the manner in which Lawhead reunites Bran with Mérian. The thoughts that Bran used is an anachronism, and once he makes that leap in logic it’s obvious where the train is headed. The only question is “how”, because quickly the “where” becomes self evident. It’s the only real hiccup in a nicely told story, and it is easily overcome by the pace Lawhead sets for the action that takes place around it.
A bigger issue for is that even though it’s obviously written as the first of three books Hood simply ends, not with any sort of bang but instead as if there’s nothing left to be told. There is an epilogue that carries the story forward a little, but in my opinion Hood needed something more story-wise at the end. Lawhead did include a well thought out writer’s note at the conclusion, but sillily the publisher put the pronunciation guide after everything while it should obviously be at the beginning of the book. That error was corrected in the second book of the “King Raven Trilogy”, Scarlet.
Hood was very close to rating a nine (or ten!), but the lack of a solid ending dropped it a touch. I still wholehearted recommend the book. One amazing fact of the story…not once does Lawhead use the name “Robin Hood”. You’ll have to read the book to find out why.