The Way of the Word

28. December 2009

Review: Stephen Lawhead – Hood

Filed under: books,review — jensaltmann @ 11:15
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Originally published in 2007.

Hood is the first novel in Stephen Lawhead’s Raven King trilogy. His Robin Hood is the Welsh Prince Bran. After his father is killed by the Franks in an ambush, Bran discovers that his kingdom of Elfael has been sold to a Frankish nobleman for 200 Silvermark. And that he can buy it back from King William the Red for 600. Upon his return, Bran discovers that the money he had given to a local monastery for safekeeping has been handed over to the usurper. He now has to flee for his life. Hunted like a wild animal, Bran is apparently killed.

What saves his life are the ministrations of the Wise Woman (we’re not allowed to call them witches anymore) Angharad, who nurses him back to health. At the same time, she educates his spirit, so that he may fulfill his destiny.

Once recuperated, Bran takes on the mantle of the Raven King, a legendary figure, to terrorize the invaders and aid his people. When he hears of a transport of silver, he decides to steal the money, as it will give him the funds to buy back his kingdom. The heist succeeds, making Bran a new enemy of Guy de Gysburne. But when all his plans are foiled by the treachery of the Franks to whom he turns for aid, Bran has no choice but to return to the forest and continue the fight.

The various plot threads in this novel remain unresolved, but that’s par for the course, as the first novel in a trilogy usually exists mostly as the first act of a larger story. Lawhead has taken the familiar characters of the Robin Hood legend and moved them to Wales, some years before the by now generally accepted timeline. (Generally accepted by moviegoers, that is.) As Parke Godwin in hi’s novel Sherwood, Lawhead proceeds on the idea that a Robin Hood who resists the invasion of the Normans is somewhat more logical than the outlaw of the time of Richard Lionheart.

Lawhead tells his story fluently and competently, but not compellingly. The novel’s greatest problem is its predictability, a predictability that doesn’t follow from the familiarity with the Robin Hood legend, but from Lawhead’s approach to this work: it is the quintessential hero’s journey:

Bran, a brash and selfish young man, loses first his mother, then his father, then his home, then his friends, his fortune, his freedom and finally his life. He is brought back to life and transformed, essentially reborn, by the mystical power of the wise woman Angharad. When he accepts his responsibilities as The One, he is united with the outlaws of the forest, whom he leads to guard, protect and eventually liberate his people.

It would be very easy to summarize this novel so that you wouldn’t know if I’m talking of Hood or Star Wars. This over-reliance on tropes hurts the reading experience, because once the reader has figured out just what the story is, eliminating all possible surprises, the question becomes, do I stick around for the ride or do I go and get something a bit more original, something that uses the hero’s journey a bit more subtly? You might want to stick around for the characters, but those are also not particularly engaging. Hood takes great pains in laying them out for us, making their ambitions clear, and if you know their ambitions and proceed on the assumption that they are all untrustworthy, you will be able to predict exactly what is going to happen.

The one thing Hood has going for it is Lawhead’s writing style. It’s light and entertaining. But Hood remains the literary equivalent of a light snack: when you’ve finished, you’re still hungry for something more substantial.

Verdict: mildly recommended


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