(2021) Lavie Tidhar, Ad Astra - Head of Zeus, £18.99, hrdbk, 437pp, ISBN 978-1-838-93131-5
The second, (following By Force Alone) in the Anti-Matter of Britain sequence from one of fantasy's most original and iconoclastic voices.
God bless you, England, in this glorious Year of Our Lord, 1145. Things are definitely not right in Nottingham. Rebecca, daughter of a Jewish money-lender, has a sense for it. A mad monk schemes to resurrect the Christ from body parts. A bone harpist murders creatures of legend for a price. A fae creature binds its wings and embraces a new God and his son. And don't even mention the Hood. The Man in Green. The Prince of Thieves. The tick-tock taker of the ten-toll tax. What hope have the series of sheriffs sent to hold the peace? It's the forest, you see. Sherwood. Ice Age ancient, impenetrable, hiding a dark and secret heart. But hearts, no matter how black, no matter how hidden, are not immune to change. The old world is dying... and a terrifying new one is waiting to take its place. Rebecca senses an opportunity. But how far is she willing to go, and what price – because there is always a price – will she have to pay?
Having given the legend of King Arthur a good kicking in By Force Alone, Lavie Tidhar turns his steel-toed boots in the direction of Robin Hood in the second of his Anti-Matter of Britain quartet, although Robin hardly gets to spend much time in the spotlight in this lively retelling of events down Nottingham way, but there are plenty of other familiar characters including Maid Marion, Will Scarlett, Alan-a-Dale, Guy of Gisborne, the Sheriff of Nottingham, Little John, Friar Tuck, and Much. Some of these become the viewpoint characters at different time in the novel. There is also a “borrowed” character – Rebecca, a Jewish woman who appeared in Ivanhoe, who was the daughter of Isaac of York, a money-lender who fell in love with Ivanhoe after tending his wounds following a tournament.
Told in 17 parts, over 57 chapters, with a “Historical Afterward” at the end. Some parts are very short, only a chapter long, while others are forty or fifty pages long, and have intriguing titles such as “Maid Marian and the Elfin Knight” and “The Bone Harpist”, one part is even a one-act play, but there are also letters, and myths and fairy-tales used to tell a fast-moving, and at times, funny, tale of ordinary folk, and not so ordinary creatures trying to get on with their lives as nobles and princes fight amongst each other in a constant battle to gain more power.
In such a post-Crusades world there are always opportunities, and plenty of “hoods” around to take advantage of them. Nottingham is almost like a gangsterish Chicago with gangs and rackets and extortion, and scores being settled, a very hard-boiled, noir-ish sort of place, full of heroes and anti-heroes. Tidhar being Tidhar, his story riffs off music and films, and history and the various legends and incarnations of Robin Hood, particularly in modern culture as well as including fairy tale characters and adding in a smattering of Frankenstein, and there are links to characters and deities mentioned in By Force Alone. The Hood is enjoyable and entertaining, but definitely not an easy read given the various parts and multiple viewpoints and not exactly straightforward retelling of a legend that reconnects with some parts of the story that have been discarded over the centuries in preference to a band of outlaws stealing from the rich to give to the poor. As a certain doctor might have said “It's Robin Hood, but not as you know it.”
Who is next for the Tidhar treatment, I wonder? Tam Lin? Jack the Ripper? It will be interesting to find out and, whoever it is, I’m sure the retelling will be another highly enjoyable romp.
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