Review: Wolf’s Head by Steven A. McKay

Wolf's Head
An earthy: 5
 out of 5 stars

My version:
Paperback
Historical Fiction, Medieval England.
Self published
2013
Bought from The Book Depository

England 1321 AD

After viciously assaulting a corrupt but powerful clergyman, Robin Hood flees the only home he has ever known in Wakefield, Yorkshire. Becoming a member of a notorious band of outlaws, Hood and his new companions – including John Little and Will Scaflock – hide out in the great forests of Barnsdale, fighting for their very existence as the law hunts them down like animals.

When they are betrayed and their harsh lives become even more unbearable, the band of friends seeks bloody vengeance.

Meanwhile, the country is in turmoil, as many of the powerful lords strive to undermine King Edward II’s rule until, inevitably, rebellion becomes a reality and the increasingly deadly yeoman outlaw from Wakefield finds his fate bound up with that of a Hospitaller Knight…

Well, just when I was thinking I was all Robin Hooded-up, this comes along, grabs me by the Sherwoods and refuses to let go.

From the start, it’s clear that this will be a much more traditional Robin Hood the Angus Donald’s re-imagining. While the superb first volume of The Outlaw Chronicles was (partly) of necessity based in and around Sherwood and England in general, Alan Dale and the increasingly peripheral as the series progressed Robin, soon returned to their French/Norman roots and embarked on a series of day trips, long weekends and several volumes of adventures, in the Holy Land, in France, France and lost in France…anywhere but England, it seemed.

We meet this Robin in his home town in England before he becomes an outlaw and immediately it is clear he is much more down to earth and, I feel, closer to the legend and therefore closer to our sympathies. I identified with ‘Wolf’ Robin immediately – despite the 700-odd years between us. He’s a worried, frightened, unsure – he is very young at the start – character, just been run out of town after his temper and sense of justice ran away with him. Never a good idea when your life is not your own in medieval England. Never a good idea at any point in history, if you live in Yorkshire (as I did for 26 years, for anyone picking up their pen right now). Robin begins as a typically well-balanced Yorkshireman, with a chip on both shoulders and joins an already existing outlaw group. Almost without trying, his natural skills with all things heavy and sharp, coupled with uncanny leadership qualities for someone so young, begin to cause problems and jealousy with the existing management and he finds himself thrust into the leadership of the band almost without wanting to.

The story is excellently presented, there’s a good solid flow to the whole, not so neatly tied up that you think it’s too polished for its own good and not so rough, that you dismiss it. I’m still thinking about it and the possibilities now, long after I’ve finished it. The character of Robin is full of grit, interesting potential and the other characters are in no way second fiddles, well-written and clearly going to be contributing much in future stories. The whole is, as I think I’m trying to say, really pleasantly down to earth and believable. It didn’t happen like this (it’s unlikely Robin existed, if you ask me), but reading this, you will feel like it could have. If it did, it’d have been like this. There’s a reality to the story and the writing. Horrible word, but ‘organic,’ maybe Steven had the mulch of Sherwood on his fingers when he wrote the story? He’s not going to like me for this…but…this sums it up quite nicely “In touch with the ground, I’m on the hunt I’m after you, Smell like I sound, I’m lost in a crowd…And I’m hungry like the wolf” as the great Duran Duran once put it.

There are a few rough edges. There on (for example) P65 (which should be a right-hand page) Matilda may well have “kneed him playfully in the bollocks” were I describing the incident to a mate in the pub. But not in a book. When it isn’t part of a character’s conversation or thoughts. Stuff like that needs looking at, but not much else.

Did we need another interpretation of the Robin Hood legend? Well, if it’s this one we’re talking about, the answer is a massive ‘yes!’ For me, this was just what I needed, after Angus Donald’s stories went off the Sherwood rails. He took his stories ‘up-market’ I felt, away from Sherwood, away from England for the most part and, as they primarily concern Alan Dale, away from the Robin Hood we know and loved. Fortunately – for me – the ‘Wolf’ series, looks likely to continue having Robin Hood front and centre. Long may they continue.

 

Buy Wolf’s Head at The Book Depository

Related Review:
Outlaw by Angus Donald

Me, on Goodreads 

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