The King Raven Trilogy retells the story of Robin Hood, but with a difference. Instead of the more familiar setting of Nottingham during the 12th century, the King Raven books are set in Wales during the 11th century. Rather than lovable outlaws, Robin Hood and his merry men are recast as Welsh insurrectionist fighting against Norman rule.
It may seem a bit odd to remove some of the most recognizable aspects of the Robin Hood myth until you realize that many of these things are relatively recent additions to the myth. The oldest stories make no mention of the crusades or King Richard. In fact, the only mention of a king is “good King Edward”, although it declines to specify which one.
This ambiguity is why Stephen Lawhead decides to set his series during the rule of King William the Red. The Norman have already conquered Britain at this point, and are expanding into Wales. Historically, Welsh insurrectionists armed with longbows and using guerilla tactics were able to keep the Normans from completely conquering their lands. This conflict provides fertile ground for storytelling.
Each book in the trilogy explores this conflict from different angles:
Hood first introduces the reader to Bran ap Brychan. Bran is the feckless heir to the throne of Elfael. He fails to join the delegation riding with his father to swear fealty to King William because he is too busy trying to seduce a young noblewoman from a nearby kingdom named Mérian. This proves serendipitous as his father’s company is murdered en route. Bran avoids death, but his lands are taken and he becomes an outlaw.
Most of Hood follows Bran’s transformation from a brutish and callow youth into the man who will become known as the Raven King, or Rhi Bran y Hud. It is not an easy path, and I was impressed by how much Lawhead was able to make me sympathize with Bran’s plight.
Hood is also the novel that is furthest from the traditional Robin Hood myth. Only a few of the traditional characters like Mérian, Iwan (Little John) and Friar Aethelfrith (Tuck) make appearances. It remains a compelling story though, and by the end of it certain familiar elements begin to appear.
3 1/2 out of 5 stars.
This is my favorite book in the trilogy. It begins in medias res, primarily told from the perspective of Will Scatlocke, also known as Scarlet. Scatlocke is in prison waiting to be hung for his association with Rhi Bran y Hud.
Will is being allowed to dictate his life story to a monk in the hopes that he will give the Sherriff the information he needs to capture the infamous bandit. Will is playing for time, giving away enough to stay alive, but hopefully not enough to prove useful.
The interplay between Will and the monk Odo, as well as the lovably roguish nature of Will Scatlocke himself, really make this novel shine.
5 out of 5 stars.
Tuck somehow brings the King Raven Trilogy, closer to traditional Robin Hood myth and manages to expand upon the mythology. Lawhead has been carefully building throughout the series so far. A delicate balancing act, but one that Lawhead handles ably.
Not surprisingly, the book also focuses on Friar Tuck and the pivotal role he plays among the Grellon (Merry Men). Friar Tuck is believably portrayed as a man of deep faith, advocating peace over force of arms several times. He does this because it is right, not because it is easy.
My only complaint about Tuck is that it did not have more scenes with Will Scatlocke in it.
4 out of 5 stars.