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Book Review: Tuck by Stephen Lawhead

Genre: Historical Fiction; Historical Fantasy
Hardcover: 464 pages
Publisher: Thomas Nelson
Publication Date: February 17, 2009
ISBN-10: 1595540873
ISBN-13: 978-1595540874
Author Website: Stephen R. Lawhead

Tuck is author Stephen Lawhead’s third book in the King Raven trilogy and while it is worth reading to see how the plot ends, much of the novel is just marking time until the book can conclude.

The tale is of a Welsh Robin Hood living in the time of William II, William the Conqueror’s son. Known as Rhiban Hud, or “King Raven”, the young man was a Welsh prince before he was forced into exile. His people are sorely oppressed by the Freinc (Normans or French) and he sees it as his duty to regain the throne of his father and rule justly. In the previous novels, young Rhi Bran has been betrayed twice by people who could have helped him, and as a result many of his followers, including Will Scarlet, were sorely hurt.

As the story progresses, Rhi Bran sets off to gain help from his distant cousins to the north, where he find he must rescue the king of his mother’s kin before he can fully gain their cooperation. Meanwhile, Merian sets off on her own to gain the help of her father, only to find he is dead and her brother is now king. These two story lines set off a chain of events that come to the attention of King William Rufus, ruler of Britain. The final conclusion has some action, but is definitely more like true history than any of the reader’s stylized imaginings.

This third book continues the tradition Lawhead has of titling his books with the name of the person through whom the majority of the action is viewed. In this case, we have Tuck, the Saxon friar who cares for the welling-being of the forest folk and wields a mean staff.

Though the narrative of Tuck has some highs and lows, the story still had a certain repetitiveness. The novel recycles the first two books. Much of what is described could have fit into the pages of the first two books, rather than being drawn out into a third. As I read, I felt that Lawhead was writing simply trying fulfill his three-book contract, rather than writing a story that builds on the previous two and then heightens the action. Tuck is the conclusion to the story, but what it relates is not the most exciting part of the trilogy. That actually come in the latter half of Scarlet, the second book. It is about as exciting as finding out who got elected to school board seat #2 in your county. Important, yes, but not something anyone follows really closely

Unfortunately, the characterization that was evident in the first two books is lacking here. Bran becomes a character I disliked intensely, a proud man who refuses to listen to others. As a protagonist he becomes less likable and less sympathetic so that when his plight is finally rectified the reader finds it merely a positive, but not something to get excited about. This adds to the aforementioned dullness of the conclusion. Other characters are dull too, as if seen through a pane of frosted glass. Even the villains, Abbot Hugo, Guy of Gisburne, and Sheriff de Glanville have no spark of life to them, where in the first two books it was easy to hate the picture Lawhead painted of their characters. Now, they are just the villains because we already know they are. Even Tuck, the person through whose eyes much of the story is seen, has no vividness of character. He is an almost passive observer, save in one respect.

The story does paint an interesting picture of British history from the Welsh point of view. Lawhead is careful to be historically accurate even a he writes the fictional story of Rhi Bran, and one can assume that the overarching political events described in the novel did happen, and that many of the politically significant characters did exist.

Tuck is distinctly more religious in its text. Because the story is seen through Friar Tuck’s eyes, his religious nature comes to the fore, and there are many prayers, supplication, and religious admonitions in the story. Tuck often relates events going on to events from the Bible, and tells his own parables as well. Of the three books in the King Raven trilogy, Tuck has the most religious content, all of which is set into the historical context of the years following the Norman Conquest of Britain.

All in all, Tuck is worth reading if you have read the fist two books and want to know how it all ends. But if you have not begun the series, you could do one of two things. Firstly, not read the series at all, or second, read the first two books, and then make up your own story about how it concludes. Tuck was anticlimactic, being more of a conclusion and plot loose-end tie-up for the climax of Scarlet than a narrative of worth all on its own.

This review is part of a blog tour. Other participants who are also posting today are as follows:

Brandon Barr
Jim Black
Keanan Brand
Rachel Briard
Grace Bridges
Valerie Comer
Amy Cruson
CSFF Blog Tour
Stacey Dale
D. G. D. Davidson
Jeff Draper
April Erwin
Karina Fabian
Alex Field
Beth Goddard
Todd Michael Greene
Ryan Heart
Timothy Hicks
Christopher Hopper
Joleen Howell
Becky Jesse
Cris Jesse
Jason Joyner
Kait
Carol Keen
Krystine Kercher
Dawn King
Terri Main
Margaret
Melissa Meeks
Rebecca LuElla Miller
Caleb Newell
Eve Nielsen
Nissa
John W. Otte
John Ottinger
Epic Rat
Steve Rice
Crista Richey
Hanna Sandvig
Chawna Schroeder
James Somers
Robert Treskillard
Rachel Starr Thomson
Steve Trower
Speculative Faith
Fred Warren
Phyllis Wheeler
Jill Williamson