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Hood by Stephen Lawhead

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Stephen Lawhead gives a convincing argument for placing Robin Hood in Welsh country, as opposed to the much more familiar Sherwood Forest. I’ve been drawn to Welsh history ever since I watched Sir Derek Jacobi play a medieval monk in the Cadfael mystery series, so Robin Hood’s relocation to that time and place was a lot of fun for me.

In this story, Robin Hood actually goes by the name Bran. He’s the reckless and self-serving son of an angry Welsh King, whose lands are about to be invaded by murderous, yet extremely religious Norman conquerors. With his father soon dead, Bran, Iwan (Little John), and many of their people flee to the forest for safety. As more Welsh kingdoms fall to the Normans, Bran struggles to find his destiny, especially as his own plans don’t always coincide with the well-being of his people.

Did I find the story suspenseful? Let me answer that with another question: Was I blissfully exhausted after realizing I’d stayed up till 4am to finish the novel last night? The answer is a resounding “yes!” After really getting to know each of the major characters I was happily drawn into the drama.

The plot moved along a little slowly for part of the novel, but what was sacrificed was made up in character development. I was happy with it. And besides, there was plenty of action throughout to keep the overall story riveting. I also truly love Lawhead’s descriptions in this story, especially of the landscape, the lifestyle, and the action scenes. At some points his writing seemed exquisite to me. Love love love!

I loved Hood and I highly recommend it. Definitely worth 5 out of 5 stars. And I can’t wait to read book two in the series: “Scarlet.”

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The Skin Map by Stephen Lawhead

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The story opens on Kit, a 27 year-old professional headed to his girlfriend’s place on a pleasant Sunday outing. (Now, I didn’t think anything could dampen my enthusiasm for visiting London one day, but Kit’s misadventure through England’s most notoriously convoluted transit system came uncomfortably close.) Happily, though, the Tube is soon exchanged for ley travel–much bigger and more adventurous, certainly more dangerous, and arguably easier to navigate! Throw in a hot commodity, a nefarious creep with his mob of iniquitous brutes, a handful of innocent mistakes, and the reader is swept into a lighthearted odyssey in pursuit of the skin map before it falls into the grasp of said creep.

This novel is a pleasure to read, partly due to Lawhead’s imaginative storytelling, and partly to his choice of interesting cultural settings. Here in Canada, our entertainment is usually presented through an American lens; so reading The Skin Map from the lead characters’ British perspective was a refreshing change. Discovering colourful British slang was also part of the fun. In chapter one, for example, I spiced up my vocabulary with “skint” (having no money), “up sticks” (to relocate), “sprogs” (children) and “old-timey” (old-fashioned).

The characters are entertaining, quirky and enjoyable to watch along their journey. If I have one complaint, it would be minimal character development. The leads, namely our amateur ley travelers, don’t exhibit any compelling inward struggle given the mind-bending nature of the experience–especially without a map to point the way home. Kit only begins to rise from the page in three dimensions near the story’s end. The villain, meanwhile, is also not a dynamic force, as he doesn’t appear to have a motive besides pure, self-serving evil.

I rate the book as 3 out of 5 stars for two reasons: 1) minimal character development, and 2) the story doesn’t give me the feeling of an epic, when compared to some of Stephen Lawhead’s other books. Still, I recommend “The Skin Map” to Lawhead fans and anyone else who’d enjoy an easy-to-read adventure through space and time. I look forward to the next Bright Empires novel.

A complimentary copy of “The Skin Map” was provided to me by Booksneeze as part of the blogger review program.

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