It took me awhile to warm up to Tuck. I think part of it was coming into the story on the third book of a trilogy, having to get oriented as the tale of Rhi Bran and his band of outlaws was building to a climax.
The Robin Hood legend is familiar and comfortable for most of us, I think, but Lawhead throws it akilter by setting it in an historical Wales with a Robin who’s more than just a dashing redistributor of wealth. He’s a dispossessed prince, a man who should be king, and he’s carrying a load of emotional baggage, not the least of which is the death of his parents at the hands of Norman raiders.
Great, I thought. A brooding, orphaned aristocrat who runs around in the dark fighting evildoers, wearing a scary costume. Bruce Wayne in the year 1000. I wasn’t liking him much at the beginning.
Fortunately, I kept reading, mostly because of Friar Tuck. He’s an unlikely hero–short, round, bowlegged, and not particularly handsome. We experience most of the story from his point of view. Far from the jolly, insubstantial pseudo-priest of the cinema, Tuck is a man of deep faith and simple convictions. He’s equally at home offering blessings to poor families and breaking the heads of enemies foolish enough to underestimate him. He is at turns brilliantly insightful and childishly naive. He wants nothing more than to live at peace, tending a little flock of country parishioners, but his conviction of the rightness of Bran’s cause leads him perpetually into danger, a situation he accepts with weary patience and good nature. It helped my understanding and appreciation of Bran when I began to see him through Tuck’s eyes.
Tuck has faith that God will bring Bran and his followers safely through their war against impossible odds and grant them victory. His faith is ultimately vindicated–victory is secured not primarily through force of arms, or shrewd alliances, but through a change of heart. The peacemakers don’t have an easy time of it in this story, but in the end, they are clearly proven right, and blessed. It’s a powerful message.
This is a character-driven story. Lawhead doesn’t spin a lot of purple prose in blow-by-blow analysis of battles or breathtaking travelogues of the Welsh countryside, though there are some nice action scenes and enough imagery to provide a decent mental anchor for medieval Wales. We watch Rhi Bran’s transformation from a bandit leader to a worthy king, with the help of wise advisors and loyal friends. Lawhead also shines a welcome spotlight on some of the supporting players who don’t get a lot of press, like Will Scarlett and Alan a Dale, as well as a few we’ve not met before. I was particularly intrigued by Angharad, the shaman/wisewoman who is Bran’s principal advisor and mentor. It’s unclear whether she is a converted Druid or someone who has discovered the one true God via His witness revealed in nature, but she illustrates the fact that despite its embrace of Christianity, Britain was at this time only recently emerged from paganism, and the memories and influence of the old ways were still strong. Even Tuck defers to her authority at times.
Tuck is a good read, with strong spiritual and moral themes. I enjoyed it, and probably would have enjoyed it more had I read the other two volumes of the trilogy first. I’ll probably go back for them at some point, but Tuck actually left me more eager to check out Patrick, Lawhead’s novel about the Irish saint.
Tomorrow, I’ll trade slings and arrows with the other folks on the tour, and perhaps buy myself a few vowels, but for now, please stop by their websites for more reviews of Tuck.
CSFF Blog Tour
D. G. D. Davidson
Todd Michael Greene
Rebecca LuElla Miller
John W. Otte
Rachel Starr Thomson
>>This review is based upon a copy of the book provided to me free of charge by the publisher, a courtesy I appreciate, but which does not guarantee my recommendation. I strive to evaluate every book I review purely on its intrinsic merits.<<