Lawhead-Scarlet-Day 3

Today, the CSFF tour is wrapping up on Stephen Lawhead‘s latest in the King Raven trilogy, Scarlet. I just *finally* got to “the end.” For those who don’t know, this is his retelling of Robin Hood, reset in the Welsh countryside during the very real turbulent times of 1080-1100 A.D, with the injustice of Forrest Law and the Church corrupted by power-hungry blasphemers.

Let me say this was my first blush with Lawhead, and going in, I had only the vague notion that, based on what I’d heard from others, that Lawhead is one of the masters. For the most part, he lived up to that reputation; for fans of mythic history, he’s clearly the genre pacesetter. The character voices/accents were especially impressive.

Less successful was his experiments with narration style: flipping back and forth between first person, present tense and third person multiple, past tense. The former worked because Scarlet was mostly talking about his past adventures with Rhi Bran. Also, he managed to hold it together smooth enough in the early parts that by the time this started to unravel into confusion, I was already hooked enough to plow on.

He also worked himself into a corner towards the end when Will ran out of past events to talk about and started to actually move forward and he ended up switching to past tense, and I found it unclear at times where the third multiple scenes fit into the time stream: the present, or the past.

Still, the industry rules are pretty clear that the masters are allowed to play fast and loose and experiment in this manner. These bugs, nevertheless, illustrate why the general wisdom on this is “Don’t.” Where Lawhead overcomes these flaws in his masterpiece for the most part, for nearly anyone else, this would have been a disaster.

For readers who prefer light reading, you’ll want to look elsewhere: at nearly 450 pages, this is a weighty volume in more than one way. If you really don’t like stumbling over foreign place names and such, his pronunciation key will be next to useless for typical American readers, who will just guess rather than flipping back to try and figure out the correct pronunciation. If a writer wants something pronounced right by Joe American, phonetic spellings would be more effective. But for readers up to the challenge, concerning these matters, it’s definitely worth the time.

Scarlet (The King Raven Trilogy, Book 2)

My main caveat: although her “potion” would come packaged in a box of tea today, the prophet woman at times behaves more like a witch, and I found his vivid description of her ungodly method of second sight irresponsible. Those weak in regards to temptations to seek this kind of knowledge from any source other than the Holy Spirit should avoid this book. But otherwise, however easily avoidable this could have been, it’s short enough that most readers will still find it a worthwhile read.


  1. He seemed to break a lot of rules but that did not bother me one bit.

    Lawhead made the character so engaging that I personally could have cared less about Robin and the rest of them. I loved the interaction between Will and the monk.

    Great review!

  2. Author

    It didn’t become a problem for me until about half way in at earliest, and by then I was pretty hooked. For the most part, he overcame the handicap. Scarlet does grab you the most–characterization is one of his major strengths definitely. In one way, that worked against him in scenes w/o Will Scarlet. From my POV as a reader, he could have dumped all those scenes, cut 100 pages, and I would have lost nothing 🙂

  3. I agree with the scenes without Will. I was so drawn in to his character that I didn’t care at all about Bran or Merian or any of them. That goes for Odo too. *warning: spoiler*I became so attached to him that when Will escaped I missed him. (I won’t give any spoilers here) *end spoiler*

    I am not sure about the editing, but I definitely agree about Will.

  4. Author

    I did care about Bran and Merian, and Will’s girl, but my attachment fades pretty quickly after that. Had similar feelings on Odo, looking back. It’d have been nice to get more resolution there. Life’s like that sometimes though.

    Coming into book two, I can see why some might have attachment difficulties with characters like Bran; we feel the nearly unavoidable, “I’ve walked into the story in the middle and I’m a little lost” thing the most with Bran. But Will himself stands on his own two feet if you know what I mean.

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