Hood, by Stephen Lawhead
Posted January 31, 2011on:
Hood, Book 1 of the King Raven Trilogy, by Stephen Lawhead
published in 2007
where I got it: purchased new
why I read it: Have enjoyed previous Stephen Lawhead titles.
It was over a thousand years ago that William the Conqueror decided England was his by divine right. Not long after 1066 he turned his gaze further west, to Wales. With every head on a pike and every new church built, the Normans believed they were bringing freedom and civilization, while the Welsh felt they were already free and civilized.
What happens to a story after a thousand years? Is there any way to know how it really began?
Hood, the first book in the King Raven trilogy, is Stephen Lawhead’s fictional account of how a most famous myth got started. Maybe it didn’t start in Sherwood, maybe it’s main character never went to the crusades. Maybe it all started in a beautiful, wooded, green country called Wales, where the people simply wanted to remain free.
Bran ap Brychan never wanted to be King of Elfael. His father is abusive, stubborn, and short sighted, and Bran would rather court the beautiful Merian than grow up to be anything like his father. When King Brychan is betrayed and murdered, all Bran wants to do is run. If a new Ffreinc (what the Britons call the Normans) king has come from across the narrow sea, proclaiming divine right to the lands, who is Bran to question God?
Honor and honesty is fine, but in this new era of divine kings, money rules. Bran sets out from Elfael with Iwan and the itinerant priest Aethelfrith to gain the King’s justice for King Brychan’s death. Iwan can’t pronounce the priest’s Saxon name, and likewise, Aethelfrith can’t quite pronounce the British sounding Iwan. Father Aethelfrith takes to calling Iwan Little John as a joke on his height, and Iwan insists on calling his new friend Friar Tuck, as a joke on his girth. Anything sounding familiar yet?
With no access to the Ffreinc King, Bran approaches the Baron de Braose regarding the attack on his father and countrymen, only to be gruffly told his Elfael can be purchased. Purchased for more money than Bran has ever seen in his life. Angered and insulted, Bran turns to violence. And quickly loses.
Sometimes when a people has been crushed, when their homes have been taken and their farms burned, sometimes a king isn’t what they need. Sometimes what they need is a myth, perhaps the myth of Rhi Bran – King Raven. What does becoming a myth turn a man into? What does becoming crushed, being invaded, being told “I’m right, you’re wrong. And a savage,” turn a people into?
That part in the middle, where things slow down, and you start to wonder where the story is going? It’s an infusion, a percolation, an immersion. Allow yourself to be immersed, allow it the time it needs.
Stephen Lawhead is one of my favorites when it comes to historical fiction and historical fantasy. His novels and series usually have a Celtic background, and the way he writes, I swear, when you close your eyes, you are there. These people become your people, their passions become your passions. I’ve enjoyed the Song of Albion trilogy, Byzantium, and the first few books of his Pendragon cycle. I’ve always been impressed with the way Lawhead fearlessly and flawlessly takes what we think we know, and turns it into what we wish we were.
Hood is most certainly straight historical fiction, not historical fantasy(at least so far), but I think Lawhead is having a little fun with the idea of what I’ll call not-magic. There is no magic, no weapons with magical powers or elementals that can be called on. This isn’t heroic or epic fantasy. But the Ffreinc don’t know that. What the Welsh call organization and planing, the Normans call being terrorized by hautings and phantoms. Depending on what side you’re on, it might be supernatural, or it quite obviously isn’t. A nice little trick, and ya’ll know that’s the kind of trick I appreciate.
I’ve got the second book in the series, Scarlet, on my bookshelf, and hope to get to it soon. I’m guessing Lawhead will take me to a few familiar places, and twice as many unexpected places.
The natives call him freedom fighter. The invaders who bring freedom and civilization call him terrorist. Maybe things don’t change that much over a thousand years.