Reyna Thera Lorele,
The Archer King
(Blue Arrow Books, 1999)

The Archer King presents the story of Maerin fitz Warin, daughter of Ranulf fitz Warin, Baron of Derby, and Robert, the heir of Loxley. As children, they were friends, for he studied arms under her father. After fitz Warin's untimely death, Maerin's uncle packed her off to a convent in Normandy to be raised by the nuns there.

The story begins years later when Robert, accompanied by the Scotsman Will Scarlock, returns to England from the Crusades. Sickened by the sights and deeds of the Crusade, he wishes only to settle down, farming his father's lands. But when he runs afoul of a tax collector, and then the Sheriff of Nottingham, Robert begins to fear for his peace. And when he finds his father dead, accused of witchcraft and all of Loxley seized by the Church (sound familiar?), he once again takes up arms, this time against the Church for which he had fought in the Holy Land.

A chance encounter with outlaws in Sherwood Forest sets Robert's feet on a new path. After a sound drubbing and dunking by a fellow named John, Robert, cold, wet, feverish, is saved by a monk who is more than he appears. After a year and a day of study, Robert becomes Robin, the Hooded Man, the servant of the Horned Lord and the Goddess.

Meanwhile, Maerin has returned from France to marry, though she longs for nothing more than the peaceful life of contemplation that she knew at her convent. Finding her betrothed to be a lecherous, vicious man, she attempts to escape the marriage by requesting sanctuary at Kirklees Abbey.

It is while she is being returned to Nottingham through Sherwood that she meets her childhood friend again. Robin takes her back to his encampment where she is revolted by his paganism. And yet ... he's a better man than her fiance. But she still returns to Nottingham.

Lorele's version of the Robin Hood tale is a strange amalgamation of old and new. She reaches back to the original ballads for many of the incidents in the story, especially the stories of Sir Richard at the Lea and Guy of Gysborne. However, it appears that she has also gleaned story motifs from the much more recent media versions of Robin Hood. In the Kevin Costner movie, for example, Robin returns from the Crusades to find his father dead, accused of witchcraft and his lands confiscated. A single servant remains to tell the tale. In the British Robin of Sherwood, Robin serves a pagan god, Herne.

Unfortunately for Lorele, these versions tell a better story than does she. The tension between Robin and Maerin is dragged on ridiculously long, almost to the book's final pages, in a series of near misses and what-ifs and if-onlies. Had the story been told simply as a romance, it might have worked.

Another major weakness in the story, at least in my opinion, is Lorele's insistence on calling the pagans in the story "the Wicca." Wicca as an "organized" religion is an invention of this century. Even calling her pagans "druids" is a stretch, but more in keeping with the time period.

This weakness, however, is balanced by a fine sense of history. Lorele has done a good job of researching the period of the third Crusade. Using Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Richard and Prince John's mother, as a minor character was a nice touch.

All of this combines into a rather uneven narrative that the casual reader of Robin Hood tales would probably enjoy. For those who, like me, are Robin Hood fanatics, there is too much in the story that seems derivative of other works.

[ by Laurie Thayer ]



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