SHIREWODE by J Tullos Hennig
As an inveterate Robin Hood nut, I was bound to love this book and I did. My favorite rendition of The Hooded Man before this was the British series with its satisfying dose of Paganism. I found that here too, but in this and the earlier novel the added bonus of Rob being gay just pretty much made it perfect. How delightful then to find Rob's old lover returned as the world weary crusader knight and learn his name, "Sir Guy of Gisbourne" deliciouslyy a Templar knight , te cherry atop the sundae.
It is a few years after the cataclysmic events of GREENWODE. Rob, Marian and Gamelin all survived, but none knows that the others have as well. Alone, they have variously coped with the heavy burden of the disaster the Abbess visited on them and their folk. Rob has allowed the earthy but not earthly Lord to rule his actions. Marian is under the Abbess's eye at the convent, having lost her memory. Gamelin departed for France where he joined the Knights Templar and fought in the Third Crusade. Rob is now the Robin Hood we all recognize, driving the Sheriff of Nottingham batty. The sheriff asks for help from the Templars, and they send one of their best trackers, a knight who is none other than Gamelin, rechristened Guy of Gisbourne. Seeing her brother's old lover sparks recall in Marian, and together they learn that Rob is also alive and is the very man Guy is expected to hunt down.
My former practice of paganism really enlightened so much of the imagery and archetypes in this lyrical interpretation of the Robin Hood legend. The Three, a pagan precursor to Trinity, is there in the siblings and Guy. The Three must come together for the natural world to function, but in paganism it isn't all sweetness and light but, like nature, is savage and impersonal. I said it before and I'll say it again, this is the best Robin Hood I have ever read.
Much of the time the book is quite painful, unless that's just because these characters have so long been so important to me. The heartache they all suffered and still do and the evil in the name of the "God of Love" is hard to bear. But between the carefully woven natural spirituality of paganism and some exquisite prose like the following"
The stones lay beyond him, looking like a thrown set of thick, gray bones across the clearing. The far copse bordering them still bore traces of blackened, fire-stunted trees, but the green Wode was covering man’s follies as she always did, a steady encroachment upon the scarred land. She seemed to wait, silent patience.
The sum total left me breathless. I read a phenomenal number of books in a year, most being good but not artistry. Hennig's books have been among the aesthetic pleasures of my recent intellectual life.