Friday, July 23, 2010

Scarlet - Stephen R. Lawhead

Amazon.com Blurb: 


After losing everything he owns, forester Will Scarlet embarks on a search for none other than King Raven, whose exploits have already become legendary. After fulfilling his quest--and proving himself a skilled and loyal companion--Will joins the heroic archer and his men.

Now, however, Will is in prison for a crime he did not commit. His sentence is death by hanging--unless he delivers King Raven and his band of cohorts. That, of course, he will never do.

Wales is slowly falling under the control of the invading Normans, and King William the Red has given his ruthless barons control of the land. In desperation, the people turn to King Raven and his men for justice and survival in the face of the ever-growing onslaught.

From deep in the forest they form a daring plan for deliverance, knowing that failure means death for them all.



For fans of Hood, Scarlet is a must-read, continuing where the previous book left off. Where Hood seemed to mostly follow Rhi Bran’s perspective, Scarlet follows the first person perspective of William Scatlocke, also known as Scarlet (hence the title). Will is a dispossessed forester who had his land and job taken from him when his master fell into trouble. Will hears rumors of the King Raven and is determined to seek him out and join his merry band.

Scarlet, while stronger (in my opinion) than Hood, does have the feel of a filler novel in the King Raven trilogy. Nothing much happens until the very end of the book, meaning the storylines do not seem to progress. Don't take that to mean that they aren't entertaining, because they are. There are a few, very well told battle scenes, but other than that Scarlet seems to be Lawhead’s take on telling the story of an average man swept up in the tide of events.

While most of the story is told from Will’s perspective, occasionally Lawhead steps out of Will’s head and into the perspectives of villagers, nobles and others that are affected by the events to attempt to give his narrative a well-rounded appeal. While he does succeed in this, I did find it to be slightly confusing with the chronology of events that were taking place. In turning the perspective from Rhi Bran to Will in Scarlet, many of Lawhead’s characters, as well as aspects of his world, seemed to fall flat. Bran became almost a background character who dictated actions but was almost completely unrelatable. The lack of development between Bran and Marian, who also fell flat in this novel, was disappointing.

Like Hood, Lawhead does an impressive amount of research and steeps his story in rich Celtic lore and beliefs of the time. I found his research and his ability to bring the period he was writing about to life to be refreshing with its realism and believability. Will’s story does highlight the struggles of the average man as well as illuminate some political points very well. In doing this, I found myself more drawn to the struggle of the average Englishman, as well as sympathizing more with their plight, though in doing this Lawhead looses much of the "gray" zone and complexity he had attained in Hood with many of his important characters. 

Scarlet is a good, fast read made even quicker by short chapters and a constantly flowing sequence of events. While many of Lawhead’s characters did fall disappointingly flat and the plot didn’t really seem to progress toward their overall end-goal until the last fourth of the book, this is a worthwhile read and strong sequel for Hood. Will did add a bit of humor and color to an otherwise heavy, drama-ridden tale. He was an easy character to relate to, sympathize with and get to know. Lawhead did a masterful job at highlighting many points of the culture of the common man that had been overlooked previously.

Readers be warned: you need to read Hood before you read Scarlet to understand what is going on. Any Celtic and/or Robin Hood junkies will find themselves well pleased with this unique, well written and researched spin on an old-time favorite tale. It is a definite page-turner. 

4/5 stars 

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