© 2006 Stephen Lawhead
Beyond the borders of Norman-controlled England lies free Britain, and between them the March — a thick band of forest whose depths may conceal outlaws and monsters. Hood reimagines Robin Hood as an exiled British prince, who narrowly escaped a slaughter that claimed the life of his father the king and most of their fellow countrymen. Nearly dead, the young prince is nursed back to health by an old woman who steeps him in the lore of the ancient Britons, and inspires him with the story of a mysterious and powerful Raven King. Assuming the mantle of the king — the raven and his father — Bran wages a psychological war against the occupying Normans, hoping to use supplies stolen from their convoys to feed his people and somehow effect their freedom.
Hood has two veins of interest; first it’s the novel of a useless prince who is suddenly ennobled when he realizes someone has to defend what’s left of his people, and the responsibility is on him as the only link to their old country. That he becomes some sort of British Batman, using the aura of a monster to frighten the Normans, is an unexpected and fun angle that uses the medieval awe of nature’s mysteries well enough. The second vein, of course, is seeing Robin Hood in the story; there is a lass named Merian, who is torn between loyalty to old Elfael and the attraction to power and status in the form of a Norman marriage; a survivor from the warband who is named Iwan, and a potbellied and mischievous friar, the latter three of whom become members of Rhi Bran’s band. “Hood”, or Hud, is used as a pun – -referring to both a British phantom and Bran’s hooded Batsuit.
The author adds in an ending note that the Robin Hood tales were collected through songs over the centuries, and that the earliest of them name not Richard nor John, or even Henry as in Pyle’s collection, but “comely king Edward”. The author believes the Hood legend is truly ancient, and may be rooted in the British resistance to the Normans, specifically that fought in the Welsh marches with longbows. While I’m skeptical on that front, I enjoyed the story here completely. One of the Normans is so villainous that one of his far more subtle (but no less ambitious) neighbors is baffled at the obviousness of it, but I imagine the Machiavellian will be the serious threat in the books that follow.