Author: Stephen R. Lawhead
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Rating: 4 Crowns
From the Back Cover:
The Legend Begins Anew
For centuries, the legend of Robin Hood and his band of thieves has captivated the imagination. Now the familiar tale takes on new life, fresh meaning, and an unexpected setting.
Hunted like an animal by Norman invaders, Bran ap Brychan, heir to the throne Elfael, has abandoned his father's kingdom and fled to the greenwood. There, in the primeval forest of the Welsh borders, danger surrounds him--for this woodland is a living, breathing entity with mysterious powers and secrets, and Bran must find a way to make it his own if he is to survive.
I really enjoyed this version of the Robin Hood legend, where no one is actually named Robin. Our story begins with a young Prince Bran ap Brychan, who is deadly accurate with the longbow at the tender age of eight, who loves his mama, and who avoids his angry father, the King of Elfael, whenever possible. Fast forward a few years and Bran manages to elude his father once again when he is expected to ride out with his father's warband to Lundein to treat with King William, son of William the Conqueror and known throughout the land as Red William. But Bran's father and his warriors never make it to Lundein. They are ambushed by a large party of Ffreinc (Norman) knights, who are paving the way for Baron de Braose, via his nephew Count Falkes, to claim the grant he's been given over the kingdom of Elfael.
Bran avoids death that day, but as heir to the kingdom he becomes a hunted man. Born into a life of privilege; selfish, reckless, and used to caring only for his own desires and pleasures, he has no wish to stay and help defend Elfael. Instead he decides to escape to the north, to his mother's kin, to start a new life. But he doesn't get very far. Badly wounded and fleeing for his life, he stumbles into the Guarded Wood, and is slowly nursed back to health by a stange old woman who introduces him to the legend of the Raven King, and to a group of refugees who've made a home for themselves amidst the protection of the forest.
Bran watches from the safety of the forest as one by one neighboring kingdoms fall prey to Norman barons eager to carve out their own empires at the expense of the native population. Watching his people suffer and starve, toiling away to build the barons' monstrous new castles, and seeing the hope in the faces of those he lives amongst in the forest, Bran finally decides to embrace his heritage, and to fight back against the Ffreincs, using the gifts of the forest and the superstitious nature of his enemy to do so. The haunting of the forest is really cool in this version--ruthless, calculated, and very spooky. And just as the legend really comes together and the effort to repel the foreign invaders gets under way, the story ends, leaving the reader hungry for its continuation in the next installment, Scarlet. (Which this reader has already checked out from the library!)
Though the setting and timeframe are different, many of the familiar characters are here: Merian, Tuck, Little John, and Will Scarlet appears in the second book of this trilogy. Lawhead provides a great author's note, in which he discusses his decision to place his version of the tale in Wales. He points to some early legends that suggest the Robin Hood myth could have originated in Wales, the fact that Wales was notoriously hard for the Conqueror and his offspring to bring under their power, the landscapes of the March borderland and the primeval forests, and the Welsh's infamous proficiency with the longbow. I thought it worked out very well. Some of my favorite books of all time are Sharon Kay Penman's Welsh Princes Trilogy, which introduced me to Welsh history, and created a fondness in me for all things Welsh. I'll read just about anything taking place in Wales, and I was not disappointed with Lawhead's take on Robin Hood, where the land in all its mystical, magical, dangerous beauty, is just as much a driving force in the story as the characters are.
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