Hood the King Raven Trilogy, Book One
From the movies and the books, most people would feel like they have a basic handle on the story of Robin Hood, who lives in Sherwood Forest and robs from the rich so he can give to the poor. Opening the pages of HOOD, I was a bit skeptical, but in a short time I was caught up in the majestic storytelling of Stephen Lawhead, known for epics such as the Pendragon Cycle and Song of Albion Trilogy.
Readers are introduced to Bran ap Brychan, a prince who is the sole heir to the Kingdom of Elfael. When Bran was a small child, his father, King Brychan ap Tewdwr, put a halt to their relationship, so Bran cared little about learning how to lead the people. When Bran is a young man, King Brychan raises his warband and heads off to Lundein to swear their allegiance to King William and the British. When the warband meets British warriors, the Count Falkes de Braose tells King Brychan that it's too late because King William has given him the lands of Elfael. The warriors fight and everyone, including the King, is killed except for Iwan, who barely escapes with his life and goes to warn Bran.
As the British warriors march toward Elfael, Bran tries to protect his family's wealth and then flees. With Iwan and Brother Ffreol, Bran makes a trip to appeal directly to King William to save his people. When they arrive in Lundein to meet the King, the three men are ushered in to see Cardinal Ranulf of Bayeux, Chief Justiciate of England. Because the King is in Normandy, the Cardinal is handling all domestic matters. Bran describes the massacre of his father and the warband nine days earlier. After learning that Count Braose purchased Elfael for 200 marks, the cardinal says that it can be changed for 600 marks and allegiance to the King. The decision is delayed, but Bran is angry and doesn't know where to get such an exorbitant fee. During the return trip, the trio is attacked and Brother Ffreol is killed. Bran flees for his life and ultimately is attacked again and left for dead drifting in a stream.
For a small portion of the book, it looks as though the hero has been killed. Then an old woman, Angharad, nurses Bran back to full strength. As he heals, Bran wants to escape at first but eventually decides to lead his people who are living in the woods. Angharad takes him to the secret place of the forest and reveals herself as Angharad the Hudolion, the Enchantress of the Wood; she becomes his trusted advisor. Iwan is living among these people and he becomes Bran's commanding officer.
And the connection to Robin Hood? Bran leads this band in the haunting forest where a mysterious phantom occasionally appears. Toward the end of the novel, Count Falkes says about this phantom, "The folks of Elfael call it Rhi Bran the Hud." Waving his hand dismissively, he added, "I am sick of hearing about it." Abbott Hugo turned from the window: "Robin Hood?"… "Sorry your grace, no-not Robin… Rhi Bran-it is Welsh. It means King Raven."
The talent of Stephen Lawhead shines with HOOD. Crisp characters are plunged into complex inter-relationships and a page-turning style. It's good to see Lawhead back in his comfort zone.
Reviewed by W. Terry Whalin on November 13, 2011