Thursday, July 9, 2009

Book Review: 'Tuck' by Stephen Lawhead

This was the Christian Science Fiction Blog Tour's book of the month for May...which I did not finish in time to post during the tour. Or during the month of May.

What you need to know about Tuck: Fantasy/Historical fiction; Medieval European setting; third in a trilogy. Basic story overtly mirrors that of the traditional 'Robin Hood' legend. Elements of warfare and spycraft, strong religious elements, including conflict between religious groups, light romance, little sex, light on foul language.

What I liked about Tuck:

- The cover is rilly cool. Same motif as the first two in the series, but with differing details. If I bought books for the cover (which I don't, except if it's a Micheal Whelan cover, and even then I've learned to think twice) I would have bought this one.

- Rather than being a generic 'European' setting, Tuck takes place in a definite era and a specific geographic location that is important to the plot. Likewise the characters, rather than being just 'European', also belong to specific ethnic groups.

- I am generally a sucker for Robin Hood stories, and this is the first one I have heard of that revolved around Friar Tuck. (At least, this volume did - previous ones (which I have not read) focused on Robin Hood and Will Scarlet.)

- There is struggle and conflict between the protagonists (the good guys) as to the proper actions to take. While it might have resolved too easily (everyone is friends at the end, and everything turns out well) but there was conflict, and people being stubborn and people having significantly different goals.

- Some sections were quite full of action - here I'm thinking of the 'man-hunt' chapters especially.

What I thought worked less well:

- For a supposed classically trained medieval Saxon monk, Tuck prays like a Baptist. "Great of Might, I'm just asking you..."

(If I'm wrong, and there is a historical tradition of prayers being offered in this sort of wording from that era, then I stand corrected. But to this Catholic's ear, it just sounds off.)

Another element of disconnect - I was taught that the reason for the screened confessionals was to prevent graft - you can't pass money through the screen - not (as Tuck thinks) to make the confessor invisible. Unfortunately, I don't know enough about the impact of French Norman Christianity on the faith of the native British to really comment on Tuck's perspective.

- Despite the different ethnic groups, I thought that more could have been done to show different values amongst the different groups represented. (And here I mean different positive values, not just that the good guys fought fair and the bad guys didn't.) There were some elements of this in the Norman (French) perspective on the (so-called) barbaric Welsh, but I thought this could have been further developed.

- Not nearly enough sense detail.

- In the end, it didn't 'grab' at me. I was engaged on an intellectual sense, but not emotionally. I'm not sure why this could have been coming in at the end of the series, it could have been the reserve of Tuck's character, that the female characters pretty much entirely didn't resonate with me (note: they weren't bad, I just didn't identify with *any* of them, which is pretty rare for this reader) or something else entirely.

To sum it up - I thought the book was well written (didn't expect any different from this author) but paced slower than I liked. Despite my best wishes, I didn't 'fall in love with' the pov character (Tuck), and the world building wasn't in depth enough to engage me on its own. I don't think I'll pick up the other books in this series, or another Lawhead book on the strength of this one, but I'm still left mostly positive towards this author.

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