Abaddon Books, $8.99, ISBN 978-1-178108-517-2
Historical Fiction, 2017
Author Tony Venables has created an intriguing premise here. What if the fellow we all know to be Robin Hood is actually a bit whacked in the head – a charismatic cult leader of sorts who is actually all about hiding his darker, psychopathic instincts, and he is only on the “right” side because he supports the right king? On the other hand, Guy of Gisburne is the anti-hero who is his nemesis, who is actually the good guy underneath his demeanor. Okay, so this kind of role-flipping isn’t anything new, but I’m always sucker for a Robin Hood tale with a twist, hence I didn’t think or look too closely when I came across this one up for grabs on Netgalley. I requested a copy on a lark, never expecting to have my request approved as I didn’t try too hard to spruce up my Netgalley profile nicely, but when the email came, and informed me that I could finally read this one, I put everything aside to do just that.
So it’s my fault when I realize that Hood is actually the conclusion of a trilogy. Remember that when you read the rest of my review, as I suspect that my opinion would probably be more favorable if I had been with Guy and his entourage from day one.
Now, I have no knowledge, hence no pre-conception whatsoever when I open the first page. The prologue has a dark, eldritch horror feel to it, as a nun gives birth to a child sired through what seems like a dark, possibly blasphemous ritual, and I’m like, ooh, maybe that kid is Guy. Does this mean that I will get a Cthulhu-flavored horror take on the Robin Hood lore? That will be so… sexy.
No, in the first two chapters, I get instead this deliciously forbidding and surly Guy who speaks like he’s too cool and doesn’t give a flying hoot about anything. He is summoned by a band of noblemen who want to get rid of Robin Hood, and he’s like, nah, can’t be bothered to rise to that fellow’s bait anymore, so no and if you have anything to say, say it to his ass as he’s walking away from you all. Doesn’t matter. This version of Guy is just as sexy.
But following those chapters, Guy morphs into a disappointingly conventional guy with conventional morality, and even adherence to conventional norms of that time – his bewilderment when one of his buddies participate in a jousting tournament that bends the rules, or his feelings with another buddy cheats at games of chance – and by that point, I’m not sure who Guy is anymore. As I’ve mentioned, perhaps I’d have a better idea if I had read his epic story from book one. Since I haven’t, my first, second, and third impressions of him contradict one another, and I find myself scrambling to get a feel of the character and the story for quite a while as a result. That’s a distraction that prevents me from fully getting to the thick of the story.
I begin to notice another thing as I turn the pages. For something marketed as an action-packed tale, Hood is excruciatingly slow and repetitive. A big chunk of the early parts of the book are basically Guy catching up again with old friends and a new one as he gathers a band to go up against Robin in the grand showdown. If I had been with them from book one, I may be more patient and possibly even have fun as Guy meets each one in his or her “recruitment scene” moment. I really enjoy that one with that kick-ass lady Mélisande, But subsequent chapters start to become increasingly staged and showy – if this is a film, it’d be one of those where everyone takes forever to walk from one end of a room to another, and everyone gazes into the other person’s eyes for painfully long pauses before saying something that the scriptwriter believes to be very profound. I become bored. Where is the party going to start?
I have to wait for a long time. Even when the clash with Robin Hood takes place, the whole thing drags out into an unnecessarily long series of chapters in which Guy slips in and out of consciousness like some kind of new-age spiritual woo-woo “Is that Enya wailing in the background?” surreal sequences. And the battle stuff is sandwiched between two also long episodes of navel gazing that is comparable to that bloody movie in which the hobbits take an eternity to say goodbye to one another before getting on that golden ship to some elfy version of paradise. And really, Guy blacks out so often in the later act of the book that I wonder whether there is some kind of punchline going on here. I want to laugh, but the tone of the story feels so serious that it’d be like cracking jokes at Grandma’s funeral.
At the end of the day, I want to love this book, I do. I love the concept and the ideas that went into it. Who knows, maybe if I had been onboard from day one, I would have known what to expect here and maybe even enjoy what I have here. As it is, I spend a lot of time trying to reconcile what seems like inconsistent portrayal of Guy – I really want that IDGAF guy from the first two chapters, sigh – and, when I give up trying to do so, it’s then all about waiting impatiently for something exciting to actually happen.
Hood is too slow, it feels too staged and even pretentiously self important often, and… man, it just goes on and on when all I want is some good old-fashioned skewering amidst fountains of gore.