Saturday, January 14, 2012

Recommended Welsh Reading - The King Raven Trilogy

     Duke William's rapid conquest of England ended quickly at the traditional borders of the Anglo-Saxon kingdoms.  The Saxon earls, still not fully united behind Harold Godwinson, were not organized and enough to resist the Normans and their innovative use of horse and missile weapons. 
      Shortly after conquering England, the Nornans pushed into the land of the Welsh, or Cymry, as they called themselves.  On the face of it, the Welsh should have been more easily conquered than the Saxons. Political cohesion under a high king was non-existant since the death of Gruffyd ap Llwelyn. Lacking little sense of ethnic or national unity, the eleventh century Welsh also lacked the production and trade centers necessary to acquire heavy armor and weapons.  The Welsh were skirmishers, lightly armored and with bows and javelins.  Duke William and his successor William Rufus left the Welsh problem to the marcher lords, barons intent on acquiring the and developing the pastoral lands of the west. Nonetheless, the Welsh effectively resisted an outright Norman conquest and some Welsh kings were able to deal and submit to the Normans on favorable terms.

     This is the setting of Stephen Lawhead's King Raven Trilogy.  Lawhead places the Robin Hood legends among the Welsh resistance to Norman encroachment in the first volume Hood.  After Norman machinations lead to the death of his father, and more importantly to him, his land, feckless Welsh prince Bran of Elfael finds himself alone and near death in the ancient forests of Wales.  Under tutelage by old crone, Bran heals and begins collecting an assortment of followers including, as later titles indicate, Scarlet and Tuck.  The hero's journey by Bran is not surprising.  The reader knows that he will become the legendary outlaw hero, but Lawhead's gift is in not rushing it.  Throughout the early chapters, Bran grows as a leader and as a brilliant insurgent tactician, yet he remains frustratingly impulsive and short-sighted. The conclusion of the series is unique and it brings together some of the Christian ethos that were a subtle undercurrent throughout the series.
     The Robin Hood/Richard I connection has been played out so much that we take it for fact now, but a Robin Hood enthusiast looking for something fresh, and gracefully written, should buy all three volumes. All three are sold for the single price of $8.99 on the Kindle currently.

King Raven 3-in-1 ebook

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