“King Raven” by Stephen R. Lawhead (Thomas Nelson, 2011)

King Raven
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Stephen R. Lawhead’s Robin Hood trilogy – Hood (2006), Scarlet (2007), and Tuck (2009) – received much acclaim and became big bestsellers when they were released, as he presented one of the more complete and superior epic tales of this forest hero and his band of merry men.  In 2011, for those looking to read the trilogy for the first time, or for those hardcore fans, Thomas Nelson released all three books in a single mighty volume, allowing readers to put it up on their shelf next to their copies of The Once and Future King and The Lord of the Rings.

Bran ap Brychan doesn’t really know if he ever wants to be king, but his father is a poor king who doesn’t treat his subjects of Elfael as well as he should perhaps, but Bran doesn’t really know what he wants to be.  Then all that changes when a group of Normans invade the Welsh kingdom and his father is killed, making Bran the automatic heir.  Except the Normans seize the kingdom, awarding it to a bishop and care little for Bran and his supposed claim to this throne.  And so begins Bran’s adventure, as he brings together a band of merry men to go see King William and wrest back his kingdom.  Thwarted in London, he is told he can have his kingdom back for a ridiculously high amount of money.  So Bran sets about getting the money the only way he knows how: from those cursed Normans who stole his land, as well as making sure his people are treated right and well.

Stephen Lawhead presents the first of his impressive trilogy on Robin Hood in Hood, explaining his detailed research in the afterword, and pointing out the unlikelihood of this character living in the thirteenth century in Sherwood Forest and going against King John.  Lawhead posits Robin Hood living in the late eleventh century in the time of William the Conqueror and his overtaking of Britain with his Normans.  Bran is a Welshman, and the Normans cared little for this distant part of Britain, except when they wanted to make it their own.  It makes perfect sense that a man out of legend would rise up to help the people against these dastardly Normans.  Lawhead also pulls from Celtic mythology to blend this story that might well have been, seamlessly.  He also does a great job of playing on the many fabled stories and clichés everyone knows about Robin Hood, though tweaking them a little to make them all the more entertaining.  Hood is a great and riveting work of historical fiction that will have any fan of the genre hooked.

In Scarlet, the book opens with the framing tale of Scarlet, who is in prison and sentenced to be hanged.  In the brief time before his execution, Scarlet tells his story of losing everything and becoming a forester when he meets this King Raven.  At first challenged to an archery contest, he reveals his extreme skill, rivaling that of King Raven, better known as Bran, and soon becomes a valuable member of his “merry men.”  But Bran needs a skilled warrior like Scarlet to fight back against these Normans steadily taking control of Wales, as William the Red doles out more land to his cutthroat barons.  The book comes to its climax as Scarlet must choose whether to be executed, or to give up the secret location of King Raven and his men.

In the conclusion to the trilogy, Tuck, told from the viewpoint of the redoubtable friar, it seems the Normans simply won’t give up, and King Raven, also known as Rhi Bran Hood to the people of Wales, must muster not only his skilled foresters, but incite an entire revolt from his people, based mainly in his kingdom of Elfael.  With the treacherous Abbot Hugo and the evil and bloodthirsty Sheriff de Glanville, it will take everyone working together to bring these Normans to their knees once and for all and send the firm message to King William the Red that King Raven and his Welshmen will not be crushed.

Lawhead rounds out the trilogy in a great way, bringing it all to a satisfying close, but still with plenty of action and subplots and complex goings on.  Again blending the history with the Welsh mythology, it is a very enjoyable read seen through the eyes of a new character.  And the King Raven tome allows readers to enjoy the complete saga in one big book and perhaps one very long sitting (though I wouldn’t recommend it), as well as featuring a sample of one of Lawhead’s other books, The Skin Map.

Originally written on March 13, 2012 ©Alex C. Telander.

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