The Way of the Word

4. January 2010

Review: Stephen Lawhead – Scarlet

Filed under: books,general,review — jensaltmann @ 10:13
Tags: , , ,

Originally published in 2007.

Scarlet is the second instalment in Stephen R. Lawhead’s Robin Hood — pardon me, Raven King trilogy. Told in a certain extent from the perspective of William Scatlocke, better known as Will Scarlet, it continues the story from the novel Hood.

After losing everything when his liege lord backs the wrong side in a rebellion against the king, Will Scarlet wanders aimlessly around Wales. Until he meets the men of Rhy Bran y Hud (whom the Ffreinc, or Franks, call Robin Hood, because they can’t properly pronouce Welsh) and joins the rebels. During a raid, Bran’s rebels capture a seal ring, a pair of gloves and a letter. They can’t figure out what that means, but since the Sheriff and Abbot Hugo are willing to kill for these items, they have to be important. Still, it’s dangerous to have them, so they prefer to return them. But not without first replacing the letter with a copy.

When Will Scarlet is captured during an attempt on the Sheriff’s life, he spends five months in the dungeons, recalling his life history (for the reader) and figuring out what the three items mean. Now the rebels have to get word of a conspiracy against the throne to King William. If word reaches the king in time, they expect, the king will reward them by restoring Bran as the king of Elfael.

Hood was the origin story of Rhy Bran, the King Raven. With that out of the way, Scarlet has the opportunity to focus on the life of the Merry Men, whose lives aren’t so merry at all but rather quite miserable. Lawhead’s description of life in the forest drives home just how much so, especially in the scenes that take place around Christmas, and when Scarlet returns after his captivity.

Instead of a lengthy origin, Scarlet focuses on a series of capers the outlaws commit. This is what most Robin Hood tales are about: Robin and his Merry Men being a thorn in the Sheriff’s side, and possibly even saving the throne. Lawhead delivers on this score. After Scarlet’s origin, the outlaws stage a successful raid, the first of several in this novel, with each one logically building upon what has come before. It’s far more entertaining than the first novel in the trilogy, but even Scarlet can’t escape the problem of predictability. It’s obvious that Lawhead won’t kill Scarlet, and given that it’s the second book in a trilogy, it’s equally obvious that Bran won’t get Elfael back. At least not just yet. There are massive status quo changes at the story’s end. And a cliffhanger, to be resolved in the next volume.

Another plus is that a reader doesn’t have to have read Hood in order to understand and enjoy Scarlet. Since this is the story of how Will Scarlet joins the Merry Men, the reader learns everything they need to know just as Will does.

Scarlet is a much more enjoyable read that Hood, something to while away some dark winter evenings. It provides a (I suppose) more authentic view of the life the outlaws would have lived in the real world. The capers are fun, but sometimes Lawehead tries to play it too cute. (Such as when he has Will refuse to tell his scribe Mérian’s plan, therefore leading the reader to the conclusion that Will’s captivity might be part of that plan, and other instances.)

Verdict: Mildly recommended, but more so than Hood.

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