Scarlet by Stephen R Lawhead

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Scarlet by Stephen R Lawhead

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Category: Fantasy
Rating: 4/5
Reviewer: Jill Murphy
Reviewed by Jill Murphy
Summary: This second volume of the King Raven trilogy follows Will Scatlocke, a Will Scarlet figure. There is a lot less of the supernatural, and lot more straight historical fantasy fiction and Bookbag enjoyed the book all the more for it. Recommended.
Buy? Yes Borrow? Yes
Pages: 448 Date: August 2008
Publisher: ATOM
ISBN: 978-1904233732

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Will Scatlocke languishes in a Norman jail, awaiting execution. Every day he dictates a little more of his history to Odo, a monk and Abbot Hugo's scribe. Will's story is a dance; he skips through the tale of his happy childhood, his dispossession by the hated Norman invaders, his journey to the forests of Wales and his time with the insurgency led by King Raven, or Rhi Bran y Hud - the Robin Hood of legend. All the time he must say enough to keep him alive, but not enough to give away his comrades in the resistance. And all the time Odo faithfully writes the story down, seeming even to take in a little of the injustice he chronicles.

Outside the prison, Bran ap Brychan and his Grellon continue to live in the forests and continue to harry the hated Norman occupiers. Within the ranks of the Normans themselves, there is backbiting and treachery as each nobleman tries to outdo the other in rapacious influence over this new land. The King himself, William Rufus, faces constant rebellion from his brother and is playing the two competing Popes, Urban and Clement, off against each other.

As you can see, it's a great story. Despite much of the book being taken up with Will's first person retelling of past events, it still feels pacy and exciting. I found Will a more engaging character than Bran, the Robin Hood figure. He's open and honest and he attaches himself to life, love and friends utterly wholeheartedly. He sees clearly, he has great loyalty and a sharp but unassuming intelligence. He can be roused to righteous anger, but he is never spiteful. I thoroughly warmed to him and rooted for him in the subplot of his romance with Noin. Much of the time, I was more concerned that things worked out for Will than I was that they worked out for Bran and his right to the throne of Elfael.

There is also less of the supernatural in this book than there was in the first. We still catch an amount of Celtic mythology, but Scarlet is more concerned with events than the mysteries surrounding them. I liked this, but anyone looking for lots of magic may be a little disappointed. We end with plot resolution for Will, but the larger battle, for Elfael, goes on. I am a famous moaner about cliffhangers, but Scarlet has it done just how I like it - internal events are closed, but there is still development and tension in the big picture to excite some anticipation for the third volume. Lawhead has been ill, I understand, but is thankfully now recovered, but the last book in this sequence will suffer a little delay. Drat. Because I'm looking forward to reading it.

My thanks to the good people at Atom for sending the book.

Slightly younger children will enjoy The Telling Pool by David Clement-Davies.

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