(This post is part of the CSFF blog tour. A full list of participants can be found below!)
For a lifelong fan of Stephen Lawhead’s poetic and moving tales, every new book is a feast for the heart. Last year I read “Hood”, a necessarily brutal introduction to the rough world of the Brits and Normans of a thousand years ago. If that first volume in the King Raven trilogy was a little hard to get into, then it served to lay superb groundwork for this second one. Readers moving from the first book to the second will already know that the hero we have known as Robin is in fact Rhi Bran y Hud, and that our adventures do not take place in Nottingham, but rather in the March Forests of Wales in the times when the Normans began to overrun Britain and impose their cruelly weighted laws upon the Cymry. With this in mind, “Scarlet” grows beyond fantasy and becomes a living, breathing possibility of history.
The journey begins with Will Scarlet in a dark, damp cell awaiting the noose. He tells Odo the priest the entire tale of how he came to join the forest community, and the daring adventures accomplished in the company of his canny lord. Raids on forest roads embarrass the hard-nosed Franks again and again, rousing their ire and inspiring the band of rebels to ever riskier feats of bare-faced cheek, until Will is captured one unlucky night. But this is not the end of the story. I do confess that I began reading and soon after flipped through the back pages to see if Will escaped the impending execution; however, this information was not to be had in that part, and I was forced to find out in the usual way as events unfolded that did not disappoint in the slightest.
One of the most astonishing things about this book is the masterful style of writing. Now, we all know that Lawhead has always given us the very best of prose and adventure. Long have I modelled my own writing inspired by his example. But here, he has raised the standard by several rungs – most visibly in the changing viewpoints within the story. Aspiring writers are invariably told not to attempt this – let alone switch between first and third person narrative – because it’s almost impossible to pull it off without disturbing the natural flow of storytelling. But master that he is, Lawhead has accomplished it with flair. Only the most skilled of authors may break such rules and succeed at it, turning an apparent transgression of style into a many-faceted shine for the tale – thus dragging the reader happily helpless into the rush and flow of what would no doubt be called swashbuckling if this was a pirate tale. I guess young Rhi Bran is a pirate of the road, so the comparison may stand.
Speculative elements are found in the mysterious foresight of old Angharad, whose musings are reminiscent of prophets and druids. Her rituals and prayers seek a supernatural response to see through a complex and confusing matter facing the forest tribe she mothers.
“Scarlet” owns at once the familiarity of the traditional Robin Hood legends and a truer realism of earth and blood and honest-hewn humanity. Rather than the sanitised Robin and the Merry Men known to most of us, Lawhead has instigated a new tradition likely far closer to the truth of those turbulent times. A desperate folk having lost their livelihood and a desperate king denied his rightful throne are more than motivated to irk the strangers who cast them from hearth and home. The end of this book is not the end of the tale – there is another tome to come – but within these pages reside political intrigues, spiritual epiphanies, and tear-jerking romances to shake the world and change it almost beyond recognising by the time you turn the last page. This will be a joy to fans old and new, bringing back memories and hints of the world of Taliesin and Merlin, now long resting in the past. A hard journey taken with humour and zest, twisting into heart-warming surprises – a banquet for the soul, with the hope of more to come.
Trish Anderson Brandon Barr Wayne Thomas Batson Jim Black Justin Boyer Grace Bridges Amy Browning Jackie Castle Valerie Comer CSFF Blog Tour D. G. D. Davidson Chris Deanne Jeff Draper April Erwin Linda Gilmore Beth Goddard Marcus Goodyear Andrea Graham Jill Hart Katie Hart Sherrie Hibbs Timothy Hicks Christopher Hopper Becca Johnson Jason Joyner Kait Karen Dawn King Tina Kulesa Mike Lynch Margaret Karen McSpadden Melissa Meeks Rebecca LuElla Miller Mirtika or Mir's Here Eve Nielsen John W. Otte John Ottinger Lyn Perry Deena Peterson Rachelle Cheryl Russel Ashley Rutherford Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Rachelle Sperling Steve Trower Speculative Faith Robert Treskillard Jason Waguespac Daniel I. Weaver Laura Williams Timothy Wise