Fantasy author Stephen R. Lawhead concludes his masterful re-telling of the famed but frequently shallow and often misunderstood character of Robin Hood. Friar Tuck, as this amiable, portly soldier for Christ is known, adds wit, humor and bountiful wisdom when most required throughout this tale of action and warring suspense. Readers will discover that Tuck is the surprising twist and most endearing of characters in this final novel, as he contributes heavily toward the eventual resolution of finding peace after years of fighting.
Fans will recall from Lawhead's previous book, SCARLET, that by day's end King William turned out to be the self-serving ruler he'd been reputed to be and refused to give Rhi Bran (King Raven) his family's land back. This story begins with King William bemoaning the fact that the church requires much by way of gold to pay for his sins of bloodshed. Soon, the king will be bemoaning more than the loss of money as his own shortsighted selfishness has brought the ire out in Bran and the forest folk who continue to fight back against such tyranny. And fight they do.
Enter Tuck, silently commiserating over the fate of Bran and his Grellon who expected King William to be just. Now there’s another disappointment to endure, which has the people mourning as their hope for restitution is bitterly crushed. Anger infusing his every thought, Tuck cries out to God in despair, "How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer?"
The remainder of the story details Bran and his companions’ ongoing fight against the evil rulers in their beloved country of Wales. And they suffer daily, from lack of food, warmth, clothing and proper shelter. Each one measures the days and hours until the brutal fight can end. Bran, sturdy leader and warrior though he is, cannot fight against his people's mounting discouragement. Still, he continues to take his band of men out of the forest, seeking to gain key allies amongst former friends yet finding them rare indeed.
Using Tuck as a shield, particularly in the guise of Friar, Bran hatches his ingenious plans of gaining knowledge and entry into fortified castles by sending Tuck in first. Not altogether happy with this arrangement, Tuck nonetheless goes along with Bran's schemes. Understanding the gravity of their tenuous position, even Merian leaves the forest while Bran is out stealthily engaging his enemy and returns to her home. Hoping to enlist the aid of her father and his army, Merian is shocked to find that her father has died and her brother is married to her enemy. She is now a prisoner in her childhood home and awaits Bran's rescue.
Meanwhile, King William is feeling the pressure to resolve these skirmishes by fellow sovereigns. The question is, how long will it take before the mighty king has had enough?
Fans of Stephen Lawhead will be delighted and pleased with this satisfying conclusion to the Robin Hood saga. As always, his attention to detail is exact, and his balance of poking fun at humanity's foibles while making points when required is similarly appreciated and noted.
Reviewed by Michele Howe on February 17, 2009