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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Scarlet by Stephen R. Lawhead

Title: Scarlet (King Raven Trilogy Bk 2)

Author: Stephen R. Lawhead

Publisher: Thomas Nelson

ISBN: 9781595540898

Genre: Historical Fiction

Pages: 449

Rating: 3.5 Crowns

Like much of the country which is suffering under the rule of William the Red and the invading Normans, William Scatlocke has lost everything he owns. A forester by trade, he hears of the exploits of King Raven, a larger than life and mysterious figure who refuses to be oppressed by the Normans. Will resolves to find this King Raven and impressing him with his archery skill joins his band of forest dwelling followers who nickname him Will Scarlet. Will learns that King Raven is actually Rhi Bran y Hud (King Raven the Enchanter), displaced heir to the Kingdom of Elfael. His followers are a lively and determined band of people including the lovely Merian, the wise woman Angharad and the outlaws Iwan and Siarles.

Bran and his crew lead a rough life in the forest, struggling to survive as they formulate a plan to regain their lost lands. During a raid to designed to cripple the Count de Braose under whose rule they suffer, King Raven loots a wagon train that contain items de Braose and his cohorts (which include the villainous Sheriff Richard de Glanville and Marshal Guy de Gysburne) are desperate to get back and which may contain the key needed for Bran to regain his kingdom. During another such adventure Will is captured and sentenced to hang unless he betrays King Raven. Will's loyalty is tested like never before as he faces certain death and as the entire fate of England hangs in the balance.

The story opens with Will in his filthy jail cell relating his story to the sympathetic monk Odo who has been sent to record Will's story in an effort to learn information on King Raven. Will is a likable character who spins the tale to the monk in a forthright manner with the occasional back and forth banter between the two.

Lawhead gives a riveting account of the plight faced by King Raven and his followers. I felt I had a much better understanding of the beginning of the Norman conquest of Wales. Lawhead doesn't leave anything out detailing the of seizing lands, displacing of people, implementing of Forest Law (seizing lands for use of the crown and making trespassing or hunting on them punishable by death), unjust hangings and punishments and many other cruelties to be endured. It is made abundantly clear to the reader how difficult the plight of Bran and his followers is.

I also really loved seeing the story from Will's point of view because he is a very likable character. You sympathize with the circumstances that brought him to Bran and he proves himself to be fiercely loyal but also with a sensitive side as he falls for the lovely widow Noin. The pacing of this book was quite a bit slower than Hood-the first book in the trilogy-and not as action filled. Also, while I liked the telling of the story as Will sits in a dungeon awaiting his doom, I never really felt that Will was actually in danger of meeting that awful fate which kind of killed the suspense for me a little bit. The reader should be warned that as is usually the case with a second book in a trilogy, there isn't really a resolution in the end. Its the inevitable cliff hanger that leads to the next book which focuses on Friar Tuck.

I love that this trilogy gives a realistic portrayal of the Robin Hood legend and allows supporting characters to shine and tell their stories. Overall this was a solid contribution to the trilogy and I cannot wait to see how the story wraps up in book three.

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This book is from my own personal library


S.L. Stevens said...

I own the first book, Hood, but I haven't read it yet. What intrigues me about the whole series is that he re-imagines Robin Hood as a Welsh king. I have such a big TBR pile right now, but I should shuffle this series closer to the top.

dolleygurl said...

I am roughly halfway through Hood and really enjoying it. I have read books that have set it squarely within the historical context of the Richard I/John reign but this gives it a different feel too. My boyfriend has read some of Scarlet and he said it does slow down a lot and that he did love the switch in viewpoint from Hood. I guess I will wait and see. Thanks!