A Review – Tuck (Day 2)

What we know now as legend, old and familiar as the dusty books we read as children, began in the dark distance of the past as something else—as some truth we’ve changed until we remember things that never were and forget those that really happened.

Tuck CoverFor every legend we love, another story lies buried somewhere, tantalizing and forever out of reach.

“It will seem strange to many readers,” writes Stephen R. Lawhead,

and perhaps even perverse, to take Robin Hood out of Sherwood Forest and relocate him in Wales; worse still to remove all trace of Englishness, set his story in the eleventh century, and recast the honourable outlaw as an early British freedom fighter. My contention is that although in Nottingham, the Robin Hood legends found good soil in which to grow, they must surely have originated elsewhere.

In the King Raven (Welsh “Rhi Bran”) Trilogy, the “elsewhere” is Wales. Bran ap Brychan is the clever, roguish, and reckless son of a bullheaded king, estranged from his father and wishing nothing more than to pursue his own lusts in his own way. All that changes when Brychan and his war band are slaughtered by treacherous Normans. Elfael is given into Norman hands, and Bran, the rightful king, is driven wounded into the shadows of Coed Cadw, the Guardian Wood.

Hood tells the story of Bran’s plunge into the forest, his rescue by the ancient bard Angharad, and the beginning of his fight against the Normans as he embraces his role as king. In Scarlet, the legend continues as men and women gather around Bran, becoming more and more the rogue outlaw and merry men we all know. And in Tuck, the story reaches its powerful conclusion.

As Tuck opens, the men and women of Coed Cadw are staggering home from bitter betrayal at the hands of William Rufus, the Norman king. The Saxon mendicant Aethelfrith, nicknamed “Friar Tuck,” trudges alongside them, praying: “How long, O Lord? How long must your servants suffer? And Lord, does it have to be so blasted hot?”

With their hope of royal intervention snatched from them, Bran and his people prepare for the fiercest battle of their lives—a prolonged and impossibly stacked battle for peace.

The tale is written with Lawhead’s customary mastery of place and time, by times earthy and misty with the atmosphere of a Great Britain shared by Normans, Saxons, and Cymry. The details are never forced, but they transport readers back to the eleventh century as effectively as any time machine. The characters, too, are brought to life through Lawhead’s skillful writing—especially Tuck himself, whose bow-your-head-and-pass-the-ale faith is extraordinarily human and real.

Compared to the dark, brooding atmosphere of Hood, I found Tuck to be an adventure story of the kind I loved reading as a child. It’s funny, exciting, and sometimes sad, carried ever forward by the power of hope. By the final chapters, it seems certain that hope will never come to fruition—but then there’s that ending, unexpected, almost unbelievable, and entirely right.

But that’s all I’ll say about that.

Faith is a very real force in Tuck. Nearly every character claims it, be he villain or hero, priest or Norman soldier or Welsh king. Most believe themselves to be on God’s side—or at least sincerely hope they are—and most are wrong in some respect. God is on His own side, after all. But the men and women of Lawhead’s eleventh-century Britain never make the modern mistake of thinking that God is not involved at all.

Tuck, with his staff, taking his place behind Bran and Scarlet, found himself walking beside Owain. “Whatever happens today,” said the young warrior, “I would have you say a prayer for me, Friar.”

“And here I have been praying for us all since first light, have I not?”

“Then,” said Owain, “I will pray for you, Friar Tuck.”

“Do that, boyo,” agreed Tuck. “You do that.”

Tuck is a powerful conclusion to a trilogy that dares take us back to a place and time forgotten, reimagining a legend in a way that might have been, with true credit to a God who certainly is. It’s a thoroughly enjoyable read.



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5 responses to “A Review – Tuck (Day 2)”

  1. […] recommend a couple other stops along the Lawhead Tuck Tour. Rachel Starr Thomson has a beautiful review; in her post, Ryan Heart included a book trailer I didn’t even know about; Steve Rice brings […]

  2. […] Richey ? Hanna Sandvig ? ? Chawna Schroeder ? James Somers ? Robert Treskillard ? ? Rachel Starr Thomson Speculative Faith ? ? ? Steve Trower ? ? Fred Warren ? […]

  3. […] Rat Steve Rice Crista Richey Hanna Sandvig Chawna Schroeder James Somers Robert Treskillard Rachel Starr Thomson Steve Trower Speculative Faith Fred Warren Phyllis Wheeler Jill Williamson Share and […]

  4. Phyllis Wheeler Avatar

    Again, a terrific analysis! Thank you, Rachel!

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