A world of gods and monsters. An elemental power, rising. This is Robin Hood, reborn, as he has never been seen before…
Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed, and will alter forever the legend of Robin Hood.
I look back at the 1980s and there were so many TV shows that at the time I thought were brilliant. Some of them are still nostalgia-fuelled favourites, whilst others I now see as pretty dire. One of the former is Robin of Sherwood, which between 1984 and 1986 was essential viewing in our household (although not so much once Michael Praed's Robin died, and was resurrected as Jason Connery). Robin of Sherwood was everything the Middle Ages was (and everything Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves wasn't) - dirty, gritty, and laced with the pagan superstition and folklore that would have been a huge part of English culture in those days. It brought us the legend of Robin Hood in a way that no one had before, and as far as I am aware no one has since. Until now that is.
When I first read the publisher's blurb for Tim Hall's Shadow of the Wolf my interested was immediately piqued. It promised a completely new and original take on the Robin Hood legend and I couldn't wait to read it. However, for the first 200 pages or so I found myself feeling a little short changed. Other than the first chapter, which hints at an element of the supernatural, there was little that made it stand out from all that had come before it. Admittedly, it starts off at a much earlier point in Robin's life than most previous stories have, and Marian is a very different character to the way she has been portrayed by most in the past, but other than that there was little that could justify this so called different take.
And then boom! About halfway in the unspeakable happens - Robin is completely and utterly defeated, his body brutalised in an horrendous manner, and he ends up broken and near dead in Sherwood Forest, a place that is as far as you can get from the cheerful, leafy glades of Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. But just as it looks as if a premature end has come for our hero, nature and mythology intervene and all of a sudden we find ourselves in the middle of a revenge story that has more in common with Swamp Thing than it does with Kevin Costner's outing. All of a sudden the time spent reading those initial two hundred pages of character building and scene setting become worth every single minute spent on them, and as a reader I was gripped until the very final page, and even then I wanted more.
This is a challenging read that you need time to luxuriate in if you want to get the most out of it. It's not a book that is a light read for the beach as it craves for your full attention; it is atmospheric and rich in detail and if you give it the time and attention it deserves it will draw you in completely. It's not perfect: the first 200 pages could have been edited down a bit in my opinion, and after a while Marian's unpredictable and at times brattish temperament can become a little grating, but as far as epic YA fantasy goes it is certainly an excellent and welcome addition to the fold.
I believe Shadow of the Wolf is the first book in a trilogy, and I'm certainly keen to re-enter the dark and brutal world that Tim Hall has created for the legendary Robin and Marian. Shadow of the Wolf was published by the brilliant David Fickling Books at the beginning of July, in a hardcover edition with a stunning cover (one of my favourites of the year so far). My thanks go to the fab people at Riot Communications for my copy of the book.