Parke Godwin,
(Avon, 1991)

It is a storytellers' custom, not historical evidence, that places the legendary Robin Hood during the tumultuous reign of Richard the Lionhearted and his brother, Prince John. Given the assumption that Hood is actually a composite of various outlaws from England's past, it's possible they could have sprung up in any number of places and times.

Parke Godwin gives us a Robin Hood worth considering in Sherwood, a book set in the aftermath of the Norman invasion of 1066. With conquest still fresh in Saxon memory, the tale has a sense of urgency and desperation not present in other versions.

There are plenty of familiar elements, however. Hood here is Edward Aelredson of Denby, conscientious thane and bitter defender of his people and their rights. Once installed in the vastness of Sherwood, he is less concerned with highway robbery -- although there are some incidents of note -- than he is of evading capture. With him are several familiar allies, including the brooding blacksmith John Littlerede, Much the miller's son, Welsh archer Will Scatloch and sexton Tuck. Marian, herself a refugee from Norman deprivations up north, awaits Robin patiently as his new bride and Norman hostage.

But Sherwood is not a simple recitation of the legend with the dates and some names changed. Godwin has crafted an elegant, often brutal saga with twists in the telling to keep readers guessing. William, for instance, is no absentee king, neither the benevolent Richard nor the sinister John portrayed in most versions of the tale. The sheriff of Nottingham, named here as Ralf Fitz-Gerald, is neither incompetent nor cruel, although he is fiercely loyal to his king and resolute in his pursuit of Norman justice against Saxon malcontents.

Sherwood is a worthy addition to the vast collection of Robin Hood lore and works equally well as a historical novel set in England in the late 11th century. Godwin proves himself intimately familiar with the details of the battles between Norman and Saxon, as well as the personal nuances of real characters such as William the Conqueror and his queen, Matilda. This novel smacks of history as much as fable or ballad, a plausible tale that is absorbing from start to finish.

- Rambles
written by Tom Knapp
published 23 July 2005

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