Tuesday, November 27, 2007

King Raven, Part 1

Title: Hood

Series: The King Raven Trilogy #1

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

Genre: Adult Legend

Excerpt from the prologue of Hood:

The pig was young and wary, a yearling boar timidly testing the wind for strange scents as it ventured out into the honey-coloured light of a fast-fading day. Bran ap Brychan, Prince of Elfael, had spent the entire day stalking the greenwood for a suitable prize, and he meant to have this one.

Eight years old and the king’s sole heir, he knew well enough that he would never be allowed to go out into the forest alone. So rather than seek permission, he had simply taken his bow and four arrows early that morning and stolen from the caer unnoticed. This hunt, like the young boar, was dedicated to his mother, the queen.

She loved the hunt and gloried in the wild beauty and visceral excitement of the chase. Even when she did not ride herself, she would ready a welcome for the hunters with a saddle cup and music, leading the women in song. “Don’t be afraid,” she told Bran when, as a toddling boy, he had been dazzled and a little frightened by the noise and revelry. “We belong to the land. Look, Bran!” She lifted a slender hand toward the hills and the forest rising like a living rampart beyond. “All that you see is the work of our Lord’s hand. We rejoice in his provision.”

Stricken with a wasting fever, Queen Rhian ha d been sick most of the summer, and in his childish imaginings, Bran had determined that if he could present her with a stag or a boar that he had brought down all by himself, she would laugh and sing as she always did, and she would feel better. She would be well again.

A Welsh prince fights for his life and the kingdom stolen from his father.

The Writing: Mr. Lawhead’s craft in Hood, like in his other books that I’ve read, is practically impeccable. Hood is not a fast-paced read—I could put it down until I reached the last quarter of the book. But the story remained in the back of my mind and would draw me back to its pages when my free time came.

The descriptions in Hood are detailed, but unlike any other author I’ve reviewed for this blog, Mr. Lawhead write them in such a way that the story never lost tension or pace because of it. I cannot recall even one place where the description bogged down and I felt myself sighing and thinking, “Come on. Let’s get on with it.” That in itself speaks to Mr. Lawhead’s mastery of the craft.

My only problem occurred with the large cast of minor secondary characters and numerous places. The unusual names tended to blur together, and because of how names worked in that time period, relationships weren’t always clear to me. I even ended up placing one character in France instead of England. But the confusion rarely impeded my reading, so who am I to complain about such a small point?

The Story: Hood might be a retelling of Robin Hood, but if you have in mind the light Disney movie, forget it. That has not been Mr. Lawhead’s style in his past books, and this version has not been any more romanticized.

As a result, Hood has some strong scenes of violence and general crudity. They’re not overdone, especially considering the historical context, but neither does Mr. Lawhead shy away from the reality. Therefore, although Hood has some humorous moments, a dark tone pervades the books, especially coupled with a plot of treachery and vengeance.

Religion is prevalent, but don’t expect a sanitized version of modern American theology. In keeping with history, both sides use Christianity to justify actions (some of which are quite abominable), and concepts like divine rights show up.

Finally, Hood toys with the boundaries of magic. While the magical is not extensive in this book, a female bard possesses supernatural abilities, which she seems to ascribe to Christ. But it's not clear-cut.

Summary: While Hood is almost flawless in its writing, this isn’t a light, inspirational novel. If that’s what you’re looking for, this trilogy is not for you. Or if magic is a tender spot, avoid Hood. Also, due to the violence and crudity factors, I wouldn’t recommend this for kids under fifteen or for teens of a more sheltered mind.

That said, if the reality of the Middle Ages doesn’t offend you and you don’t mind a character with supernatural abilities, Hood might very well provide a feast for your mind with its detailed world, realistic characters, and fascinating twists on a familiar story. It especially seems well-crafted for guys.

Rating: 4.4 out of 5 (due to content concerns)

Interested? Order Hood here.

(Book 2 reviewed here and Book 3 here.)


chrisd said...

I agree about the lightness of the novel. This was a good, thoughtful book although I had a lot of fun reading it.

I loved it.

Rebecca LuElla Miller said...

Another expert review, Chawna. You are so thorough--addressing issues both readers and writers want to know. Very well done.