It’s taken me more than a month to read this trilogy, and not because I’m a slow reader, or because the story was not interesting. I’ve just had a LOT going on in my life, which has forced me to read slower than normal. Like, read a paragraph, unpack a box, read a few pages while nursing, make lunch, try to finish a chapter before passing out in bed… you get it.
However, reading slowly has wonderful advantages: I got to escape to the primeval, shadowy forest of Wales and follow Rhi Bran and the Grellon through their adventures when I needed a break from my own stressful life. And Stephen Lawhead (as always) does an amazing job recreating the world as it could have been when the legend of Robin Hood was born.
In the first novel, readers are introduced to the petulant young prince Bran, heir to his father’s small kingdom, and impishly selfish. When the king and his entire war band are attacked by French soldiers without provocation, Iwan (or John in English) is the only survivor and returns to inform Bran that he is now the king AND the French are coming to claim the entire kingdom.
Bran decides to hide his people and go appeal to the High King, William II, meeting a corpulent monk named Athelfirth along the way. Iwan’s Welsh tongue has a hard time with the monk’s name, so dubs him Friar Tuck, who promptly returns the favor by deeming him Little John (get it?). Unfortunately, the king is out of town at the moment, so Bran is forced to deal with a slimy cleric who demands a ridiculous sum of money for the repurchase of Bran’s ancestral home, which has legally been sold to a French baron.
Dejected and furious at the impossible amount required, Bran does what all good kings do in a crisis: he runs away (but is mortally wounded in the process). Lucky for him, the last Bard of Britain, the bánfaith Angharad finds him deep in the forest and nurses him back to health. As she heals his body, Angharad calls deep to Bran’s soul with songs and stories of Welsh heroes (mini stories that are fantastic bedtime tales for wiggly 4-year-olds, I’ve found), so by the time Bran is physically ready to move, he is mentally ready to be the king his people desperately need.
What I loved: Blending of ancient Welsh stories and language with the familiar Robin Hood legend and fleshing out the historical context to a compelling and believable point. I also loved Lawhead’s persuasive essay at the end of the novel detailing his reasonings for moving the very ENGLISH Robin Hood legend to the forest of Wales (it was brain-candy for this nerdy Mediaevalist!)
What I didn’t like: Um… I wish the maps had been a little more detailed. I really didn’t have much not to like! Bran’s transition from invalid to forest superhero jumps faster than I felt was satisfyingly realistic, but since you kinda know where the story is going, rushing that point can be forgiven.
I’ll be posting Part II and III in the next few days (if Josh decides to give me more than 10 minutes break from nursing… he’s getting teeth!). But tell me, have you read this book? What did you think of it? If you haven’t read it, what is your favorite Lawhead tale? And if you’ve never heard of Stephen Lawhead, well, I don’t know if we can be friends anymore…. =P