Monday, December 27, 2010

Review: King Raven Trilogy

Interested in the legends of Robin Hood? How about England and Wales in the 1100s? If you mix these ideas together, you get the King Raven Trilogy by Stephen Lawhead.

One may believe nothing can be said about Robin Hood that is new and different--three long books worth, no less! The idea gripped Lawhead as he wondered what era would best support the legends as we know them, then searched through history to find a time period and political structure for that purpose.

He uncovered the England and Wales of the eleventh century under the reign of William the Red. Truly this was a volatile period in the history of the British Isles, and I can understand Lawhead's reasoning for tossing aside Sherwood Forest in favor of the march lands of Elfael in Wales. In Lawhead's words:

New rulers of the realm (the Normans) meant strange new laws in the land. One of the most hated was known as Forest Law--a set of highly questionable legal codes designed solely for the benefit of the crown-wearer and his cronies, and not at all confined to "forests" as we understand the word (areas of dense woodland), but could encompass large tracts of grassland, marsh, and moorland. Entire villages were razed and burned to the ground, sometimes because the settlement occupied land that the king, or members of his court, had identified as prime real estate for hunting. Other times destruction was inflicted as punishment for an infraction--such as rebellion or treason--by the local lord....

All of a sudden it was a serious crime to trespass on royal land, and the hapless victim caught within the royal forest precinct faced losing a hand or an eye at best, or if worse came to worst, death by hanging.

Does that begin to sound like the backdrop for the Robin Hood story that we know? Backdrop, yes. But the story takes some serious turns from the Walt Disney version my kids practically memorized in the 80s. For one thing, there are no talking foxes. (Who knew?) Instead, these novels are darker, more desperate tales that will appeal to a more mature audience. Lawhead is a master storyteller, and that is obvious from the first paragraph of any of his novels.

For me, this change in venue and style works well. It releases the legend from the somewhat romantic straitjackets it’s been bound in, while Lawhead has kept enough of the skeleton to make the story quite recognizable.

The series starts with Hood, the story of how Bran (not known as Robin Hood) became an exile. It delves a lot into the history of the day with a fast paced story woven through it. The second book, Scarlet, continues the tale, but from the point of view of Will Scarlet as he relates his life story to Ordo the scribe from a jail cell. The longer Will keeps talking, the longer he stays alive, so it's to his advantage to tell a good story! Lawhead finishes off the trilogy with Tuck. This novel carries the merry band (only they're a bit less than merry most of the time) to London and back, as they fight the system of the day.

This series is truly a winner for those who love Welsh history.

Stephen Lawhead is an internationally acclaimed author of mythic history and imaginative fiction. In addition to his twenty-four novels, he has written nine children's books. Many of his titles been published in foreign languages. He has won numerous industry awards, and in 2003 was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters by the University of Nebraska. Lawhead makes his home in Oxford, England.

Valerie Comer writes contemporary romance set in British Columbia, Canada, as well as fantasy set in uncharted dimensions. Her day job is split between flooring sales and writing. She lives on a small farm with her husband, an energetic dog, two psycho kittens, several hives of bees, and a herd of Herefords. Visit her website and blog to find out more about the various writing projects she has in progress.


  1. Thanks Valerie. I am a big fan of Stephen Lawhead's books, and this trilogy was no exception. Indeed, about a chapter into each book and I was fretting the fact that I would have to wait for the next one...
    If only he could write them as quickly as I can read them. LOL. Amanda Deed.

  2. Great review Valerie. I haven't had the chance to start on the King Raven Trilogy yet because I was just finishing the first book from the Bright Empire Series, The Skin Map which was amazing! Make sure to check it out and I can't wait to get my eyes on Hood!