Review: Scarlet - King Raven Trilogy, Book 2, by Stephen Lawhead

Scarlet is the second volume of Stephen Lawhead’s King Raven trilogy. Billed as "Robin Hood - the legend begins anew," the first volume, Hood, gives re-birth to the Robin Hood of lore in a new time and a new place. Rather than keeping to the assumed boundaries of the Old English tales, Lawhead explores what he (as he explains in the afterword, titled "Robin Hood in Wales?") believes could be the true origins of the legendary thief and his band of merry men. Scarlet continues in this tradition with the introduction of William Scatlocke (friends call him Scarlet), forced from home and occupation by the Normans, who seeks out King Raven as an ally.

Thankfully, this volume lacks the expository quality of its predecessor, briefly sketching Will Scarlet’s past, and planting him presently among King Raven and the Grellon who reside in Cél Craidd¹. The groundwork having been deftly laid in Hood with memorable characters, Will’s story takes precedence and becomes everyone’s story. At first, the method of storytelling is somewhat strange: we find Will to be in prison, telling his story to a Norman monk who takes the story down. He has been sentenced to hang, though for what, and how he came to be arrested, are not said outright. But as the story progresses, the banter between Will and his jail companion becomes less jarring, and is inevitably integral to the rest of the story.

This volume is certainly richer both in character and in structure – there are more charades, more adventure, and more villainy. Finally introduced in this volume are characters familiar to the Robin Hood legend: the antagonistic and corrupt sheriff (Richard de Glanville) and his deputy, Guy of Gysburne, There’s also something to be said for the love story² – a little romance in the woods can go a long way. And while Mèrian seems reluctant to seal the deal with Bran, Scarlet manages to find love and a family. The little romantic girl in my heart might have squee’d a little.

My one and only teeny tiny complaint is how easily the baron’s/sheriff’s/abbot’s men go down. I know these men of the woods are quick on the draw and all, but we’re talking 4 or 5 very quick bowmen letting off arrow after arrow, downing man after man – through shields, through bodies… there must be something in the water, because the Grellon kill soldiers with almost machine-gun-rapidity.

The conclusion of the trilogy, Tuck, focuses on…you guessed it, Friar Tuck as the conflict between the Normans and the Welsh reaches its climax. Expect (more) blood. More on that later this summer.

[1] The narrative action of Scarlet takes place about a year after Hood leaves off.
[2] Not the Glanville-Gisbourne love story. Maybe that comes in Tuck.


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