Wednesday, January 21, 2009

Lisa’s Take: The King Raven Trilogy Book 1 – Hood (Stephen Lawhead)

What I’m about to say may make you think that Stephen Lawhead’s Hood isn’t the best book – but take it with a grain of salt, I’ll clarify in a moment.

The most interesting part of Hood was the author’s note at the end. I’ve been fairly fascinated with the Robin Hood mythology since watching the BBC series last year – until then I had no idea that there wasn’t really a specific Robin Hood “canon,” I had just assumed that there was one great master work out there that Disney, the BBC, and everyone and their uncle was playing on. After watching the show on BBC I started to poke Wikipedia to learn more about the Robin Hood history and discovered that rather than a specific canon, there was really just a collection of tales and folklore that had grown and been elaborated upon over the years.

With that in mind, Lawhead’s discussion of the mythology and his decision to take Hood out of the usual established setting (Nottingham, Sherwood forest, &c, &c) and move it to Wales in the late 1000s was fascinating. The move was artfully done and pulled upon many of the well known mythical elements while still being very true to (historical) form. The sheer amount of research that must have gone into completing this novel is astounding, and left me with a new appreciation for the historical fantasy genre.

Right – less waxing poetic about the afterword and more elaborating on the book itself. I’ll be frank: when I finished Hood I was only middling impressed. If I were a good little reviewer I would have written this review as soon as I finished, but as it was I procrastinated and read book 2 (Scarlet) in between and my opinion of the series jumped up about 34 notches. Still, I’ll restrain myself from gushing about Scarlet and try to stick to my impressions of Hood for now.

There were two major problems with Hood: one problem belonged to the book, and one problem was mine. The book’s problem was that it just… didn’t really go anywhere. Young, irresponsible prince loses his family, land and people. It’s very unfair. He tries to get them back and is laughed at by The Man. He tries to give up but is nearly killed and then embarks on a personal journey of self-discovery to gain confidence and purpose. By itself this is a thin premise – luckily when wrapped in the trappings of Robin Hood and presented with Lawhead’s pleasant writing style and touch of wit, the story takes on enough life to keep things interesting. Still, I couldn’t help feel like most of the story could have been accomplished in half the time, letting us move on to the more rollicking parts of the adventure.

My personal problem that I projected onto the book was that I have so many preconceptions about the characters in the Robin Hood mythology that sometimes the characters in Hood felt muddy – I was mixing up my idea for who they should be with the picture that Lawhead was trying to paint of them. This wasn’t so much a problem for the main crew, but Merian was a particular sticking point for me, as she diverged the furthest from my charachterly conceptions. Regardless, this frustration was entirely self-imposed, and not something I can stick to the author.

I know that most of the text above is tepid at best, but do bear in mind that that Hood was compelling enough to make me continue the series, which is certainly saying something. Though the pacing could have used some work, the sheer scale of research and historical accuracy with which the story was laid forth was very impressive, and I loved how thoroughly Lawhead took the existing stories of Robin Hood and made them his own.

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