A powerful, provocative and thought-provoking read, this is the second installment in Angus Donald’s re-interpretation of the Robin Hood myth.
Even though you are prepared for this not being your usual Robin Hood story, Angus Donald still keeps you gripped and surprises you at nearly every turn. Mainly, I’d say, because like the first in the series, ‘Outlaw’, whilst of course headlined as a Robin Hood story, it was in reality more about the tale of Alan Dale, than of Robin Hood.
‘Holy Warrior’ is the same and more so.
Angus Donald’s Robin Hood is a dark and fairly mysterious presence, often in the background of the story. When taking the lead, he is an interesting enigma; a pragmatic, powerful figure, an idealist, but also a realist. Happily for me though, he is still the pagan Robin from ‘Outlaw’. He hasn’t a lot of time or patience for Alan’s ‘new’ Christian preaching, preferring I thought, to steer his own course through his own beliefs and ideals. Here, he seems to be what I hope I interpret correctly; a coalescence of the pagan history, legends and folk heroes of old Britain (older than ‘England’), an honourable man, of and for the people.
It’s a harsh book in some ways. The first one I thought, was necessarily harsh in its description of Robin Hood and his earthy, matter-of-fact paganism. Some incidents which, for me, were integral in both separating this Robin Hood from the one we think we knew (thanks to tradition, Hollywood and the Nottingham tourist people) and emphasising the fact that the Robin Hood legend has developed out of a strong, much more ancient British pagan tradition – encompassing, amongst other traditions, the Green Man – was not to everyone’s taste. And those who found a certain ‘sex’ scene too much in book one, will certainly find plenty to enjoy being shocked about here. Better stay indoors with your Mills & Boon ‘histories’ the rest of your life then, because this is how it was. Not always as nice as Errol Flynn would have you believe.
But, as I’ve said before, this is really the story of – and of course, by – Alan Dale. Alan worships the ground Robin walks on, especially you could say – as Alan is a good God-fearing Christian – when they reach The Holy Land. But, as Robin confuses, insults, disappoints and angers Alan on a regular basis, the hero worship is often also against Alan’s better judgement. He cannot leave him, though he sometimes wishes he could.
We learn more about Robin and what he believes in, partly because he is taken away from his comfort zone of England and Sherwood. The story roams through the Mediterranean, from the Norman stronghold of Sicily, to Cyprus and on to The Holy Land with The Third Crusade. Robin and his band of men are at the beck and call of King Richard, in repayment of a debt and clearly against his better judgement. But who is using who? It seems that Robin has his own agenda to follow out in The Holy Land. And it is, shall we say, more about pennies, than pennitence.
There is no way Robin is the title’s Holy Warrior. Maybe Richard is and Alan would probably like to think he is.
Whilst the next book in the series is called The King’s Man, I would say that title actually was more relevant here, as a reference to Alan’s relation to Robin. Robin is the ‘king’ of Alan’s world and Alan is, though he might frequently say he wishes it wasn’t so, is always going to be his man.
Looking forward to the next one. Ooh! I just downloaded it!