Thursday, February 26, 2009

Book Review: Tuck

I don't get to read much fiction. I enjoy a good novel, but don't often find the time for it. When I do get the chance, I gravitate toward authors like John Irving, Charles Dickens, John Updike, or Tom Wolfe. I figure if I'm going to give an author time and space inside my mind, I want something that's going to be worth it. And, in general, I haven't found 'Christian' authors who fit that bill. I'm not given to romance novels, Christian or otherwise; the hyper-spirituality of Peretti and the like strikes me as dangerous; and, of course, (in my humble opinion) those best-selling end-times novels aren't worth the paper on which they're written.

Stephen Lawhead is the exception to the rule. I think I've read every one of his books, save for some kids' books he did a few years back. Lawhead breaks every stereotype of Christian fiction, in that his books are actually well-written. From well-developed plot lines to believable characters to excitement and intrigue, his books are always winners. They may not rank up there as Great Literature with the likes of Dickens, Tolkien, Tolstoy, or O'Conner, but (in my humble opinion) they're better than most anything else in 'Christian' fiction, and up right there with the rest of the popular fiction at your local bookseller.

Tuck is the finale in Lawhead's most recent King Raven trilogy, a re-telling of the Robin Hood tale. Along with the first two, Hood and Scarlet, Tuck is full of familiar and memorable characters, deep intrigue, action and adventure, and enough historical lore to create a vivid world in the reader's imagination. Included are your soulless villains, your strong yet fair maidens, your club-wieding priests, your hard-working laborers, and, of course, your troubled yet victorious hero. Lawhead takes you from deep inside the ancient woods to the broad plains of Wales, from tiny farming villages to the teeming streets of ancient London. There are moments of quiet introspection beside mountain streams, running battles along wooded trails, and massive battle scenes with armies arrayed in full color and splendor across open fields.

Lawhead's language is rich and poetic, full of the sights and sounds of ancient England. It is evident that he has done his research, as he includes many of the tiny details that made up life in the days of Robin Hood. From the song of the bard to the arrow of the Cymry, each character and their actions flesh out a world so intriguing yet foreign to modern-day readers.

And, of course, what makes Lawhead unique in this genre is the way in which he weaves the work of God into the story. Without being overbearing, without forcing Jesus into the story, Lawhead still creates a story of a people whose faith in the "blessed Jesu" sees them through their darkest days. Truly, I fear labeling his writings as "Christian fiction," because so often that means poorly-written attempts to force Jesus onto bad novels, or writing bad novels in an attempt to "tell the world about Jesus," or even writing cleaned-up versions of whatever the secular world is pursuing, just so our kids can have all the fun with none of the sin. That's not what Lawhead does. Instead, he pens well-written books in which his own faith pours out, guiding the action of the characters as the plot moves along. I suppose one could say he's a historical novelist who happens to have a Christian wordview, rather than being a Christian novelist.

All that to say, I was excited when Tuck was released, I was happy when it showed up in the Amazon box last week, and I enjoyed reading it over the weekend. It's a quick and easy read - I got through all 400+ pages in about 4 days, so it fit in nicely with all the other books I'm reading at the moment, and was a nice diversion when the family was gone for a couple days. I was expecting good things, and wasn't disappointed. Lawhead finished up the trilogy in typical exciting fashion.

If you've never read Lawhead, I could recommend any of his books. He has spent time within the English word, in this King Raven Trilogy, and also his Pendragon series, retelling the story of King Arthur. He's spent time in the Irish/Celtic world, with his Song of Albion trilogy and his Celtic Crusade series. He's penned an historical novel reframing the story of St. Patrick, and he's written a couple science fiction books as well. All are worth reading, although if I were recommend a starting point, either Patrick or the King Raven series would be at the top of the list.

The only complaint I bring is that they are such quick reads - I wait two years for a new Lawhead novel to be released, and then read it in a week, and go back to waiting for the next. But they are certainly well-worth the wait. If you're looking for a good novel to carry you through the rainy days of spring, or perhaps some lighter summer reading, then get started on this tale of Robin Hood and let Lawhead carry you away to not-so-merry old England, where scoundrels and villians are on the loose, and heroes stalk the night to free the land and bring hope and light to their people.

1 comment:

rebecca rivendell said...

Hi Dan,
I really appreciate your book reviews. Some of your suggestions I've been able to read and found them very worth the time. I read Patrick several years ago and was reminded how much it influenced me, so I'll try the trilogy if I can find it.
I also just want you to know that Roshni now gives me a hard time that I am so computer savvy as to read blogs and links and have, on one day, lost several hours because of linking on the laptop to no particular end; the same thing I used to complain about other people doing with their time. So for better or worse I am also guilty and thus more humble than I was.