When I discovered a relatively new series of books based on the Robin Hood legend, I was immediately interested. It began when I saw an ad here on Goodreads.com for Tuck, the recently published last installment of the trilogy. It was one of those flashing ads that for the most part are simply annoying, but advertising works and I finally clicked on itand discovered a treasure. Stephen Lawhead is an internationally-known Christian writer who, I am somewhat ashamed to say, I had not heard of until recently. I have, though, become a dedicated fan. His books are usually classified as fantasy, which almost put me off, but reading some of the reviews on Amazon and Goodreads convinced me to give it a try. I am so glad I did!
Hood is the first book in the trilogy. Lawhead has taken the story and placed it a couple of centuries earlier than that of Richard the Lionheart, specifically in the late eleventh century following the rise of William the Conqueror and taken it out of Sherwood Forest and placed it in the forest of the March in Wales. Bran ap Brychan is the young, selfish headstrong son of King Brychan ap Tewdwr of Elfael. The Normans under William's son William the Red are taking every parcel of land from the native Britons and enslaving the people as their laborers. When King Brychan and his men are murdered and Elfael falls under the rule of the weak but abusive Count de Braose, Bran's only concern is his own escape. It isn't until after his own near-death experience and the influence of the bard/sorceress Angharad that he ever so slowly becomes the leader his people need to help them resist the Normans.
This book had me from the beginning. The writing is excellent, the characters are interesting and the story, while stamped with the author's own twists, is familiar so I never became lost. The only difficult aspect of the book I found was the Celtic/Welsh names. I'm just anal enough that I like to know how to pronounce what I'm reading. Thankfully, there is a pronunciation guide to help as well as a map of Wales and the southern part of England. It takes several chapters before Lawhead's characters begin to resemble those we knowLittle John, Friar Tuck, Sir Guy, etc., but the story stands so well on its own that someone who has never heard of Robin Hood (if such a person exists) would still thoroughly enjoy every chapter. For those like me who are not usually fantasy fans, this is more historical fiction than fantasy so don't let the classification stop you from trying it.
Lawhead is a gifted writer, a fact made even more apparent by his lack of the use of profanity, illicit sex or unnecessary violence. It was refreshing to read an author who doesn't need any of those in order to make an exciting realistic story. There are obviously some battle scenes, but they are not violent simple for violence's sake. All in all, this story is so well written and so clean that I have recommended it to my daughters and to some of their friends.