"The peculiar quality of "joy" in successful Fantasy can thus be explained as a sudden glimpse of the underlying reality of truth."

- J.R.R. Tolkien
Scarlet, by Stephen Lawhead

Stephen Lawhead’s Scarlet, a sequel to his novel, Hood, begins with Will Scatlock (otherwise known as Will Scarlet), the narrator of much of the book, lying wounded on a pallet in a prison cell, awaiting a date with the hangman. A Norman priest has been assigned to write down his “confession,” and Will tells his story.

The action takes place in “The March,” a border region between England and Wales, and the time is the reign of King William Rufus, successor to William the Conqueror. As we learned in the previous volume, King Bran, the rightful king of Elfael, has been displaced by the Normans and has taken refuge in the forest with other victims of their tyranny. The Welsh call him Rhi Bran y Hud (King Bran [or Raven] the Enchanter), but the Normans tend to call him Riban Hood. Will is a displaced Englishman who has traveled west to join King Bran.

The outlaws he finds are not quite the “merry men” of legend. They are a pretty desperate and miserable bunch, living a life of subsistence in a forest hideaway where food is always scarce. A number of women and children are also with them, and among them Will finds a woman he wants to marry. But their wedding is delayed repeatedly, because King Bran has discovered a conspiracy that reaches to the very top of the Norman English government, and his attempts to turn what he learns to his advantage lead to desperate risks and Will’s capture and imprisonment.

Most of Lawhead’s readers still think of him as a fantasist, but there’s only a small element of fantasy in the King Raven series. There is an old Welsh “wise woman” who has visions (some Christian readers will no doubt find this highly objectionable; I’m ambivalent myself), but she is presented as a devoted Christian nevertheless. Without being preachy, the common piety of all the sympathetic characters is presented naturally, as would be expected in a religious society like theirs.

I enjoyed Scarlet very much, although I thought parts of it lagged a bit. The language is pretty unobjectionable, the violence not graphic, and there is no explicit sex. Recommended.

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Comments on "Scarlet, by Stephen Lawhead":
1. Robert Treskillard - 01/22/2009 9:38 am EST

Great review, Lars. Tuck is finally out February 17th.

Supposedly his next series, Bright Empires, will be a proper fantasy. It's been a long time, so I'm looking forward to that.

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