01/12/2009. Contributed by RJ Barker
pub: Atom/Little Brown. 443 page hardback. Price: £12.99 (UK). ISBN: 978-1-904233-74-9.
check out websites: www.atombooks.co.uk, www.littlebrown.co.uk and www.stephenlawhead.com
Betrayed and once more seeking solace and sanctuary in the Forest, Rhi Bran Y Hud and his band must fight for their lives and Bran to reclaim his kingship.
Seeking to gather allies, Bran travels further into Wales only to find the king he wishes to speak to, prisoner of the Norman Lord, Hugh. Bran must use all his wits to win the freedom of the King and try to gather allies to unseat the greedy abbot who now rules Bran's lands. Unfortunately, help is not forthcoming and Bran's small force has to face the abbot's knights alone. Eventually, this brings them into conflict with the king, William the Red and his enormous army, setting the scene for the final showdown.
The real William Rufus, or 'The William the Red' was killed by an arrow in mysterious circumstances while hunting. I half expected this to be the climax for 'Tuck' but Stephen Lawhead takes the story down a different trail.
Unlike the previous two books, 'Hood' and 'Scarlet', 'Tuck' doesn't focus as much on one character, preferring a more omniscient viewpoint. It also returns to third person writing, which I have to admit slightly disappointed me after the brilliant 'Scarlet'. Lawhead's Tuck is also the most recognisable figure from the familiar 'Robin Hood' legend. The fat, happy priest with a knack for the quarterstaff again a slight disappointment after the first two instalments more radical re-workings.
Nevertheless, it's a good book and fairly zips along. The action is well handled and the almost supernatural seeming power of the Welsh longbow against armoured knights is well illustrated. As is the political climate of the times, not so much about loyalty but about what you can get away with. At times this feels like a larger books that's been slimmed down, interesting avenues are not followed, particularly the idea of Norman Lords starting to go native which plays a major role in the book. Alan A Dale is introduced as a character and when he appears it lifts the text, though he remains under used.
I am, perhaps, being overly critical though. 'Tuck' is enjoyable and will be lapped up by those, like myself, who have enjoyed the first two of the series. However, it's not as exciting and tension filled as 'Scarlett' and readers waiting for a big set piece end may find themselves feeling let down.
'Tuck' is not fantasy and if you're looking for that you will be disappointed. Magic played a small part in the previous books and was in each presented in such a way it could well have been a trick of the mind. It's almost entirely missing from 'Tuck' which works as a subtle metaphor for the passing of the land from the old ways into the hands of the no nonsense Normans and their modern ways.
In short, if you've read the first two of the series or just enjoy historical fiction then you will definitely like 'Tuck'. It's well written, provides plenty of action, believable characters and feels like a glimpse into another world though it never quite reaches the heights of 'Scarlett', it's definitely a worthwhile read.
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