Wednesday, May 20, 2009

Tuck: Surprisingly Satisfying

(Tuck by Stephen Lawhead. )

Those of you who have been following my posts on Facebook and Twitter know already that reading this book has been a struggle. It is honestly not my cup of tea and to say I enjoyed it would be deceptive. As a whole, I did not enjoy it. I'm not a big fan of this particular type of literature. But my own preferences and even enjoyment are irrelevant to the review process. A reviewer to be effective must be dispassionate in her evaluation.

Given that, I would have to say that Stephen Lawhead is certainly a master storyteller. I was impressed by his pacing. Too many writers of action-adventure fiction feel "conflict" must always involve a physical battle. One has little time to rest between fights and you feel like you are being pushed at top speed from one to another. Lawhead, however, interspersed periods of calm in between the battles. These were times when we could learn about the backstory and get to know the characters somewhat.

I have to say the characters, while distinctive, were not terribly well developed. I must preface the following by saying I have not read the other books and perhaps having read them the characters might have felt more solid. However, in most other ways this book stands on its own. I found most of the characters sort of stock stereotypes. Rhiban is heroic. Merian is beautiful and spunky. Alan is a scamp. And Tuck - well - Tuck is a classic hybrid warrior priest with Rosary in one hand and a stout staff to smash your head in the other. I do not consider that a positive character, but that's irrelevant to this review. However, I did like how Tuck recovers his Christianity at the end. I will say no more and spoil the story.

This is why I said the story was surprisingly satisfying. Throughout the book I was steaming over this supposed priest, quoting scripture and praying for the deaths of others. The number of commandments broken, the deciet, the hatred, the violence were hardly in keeping with that of a servant of the one who would not lift a hand in his own defense and healed the ear of the soldier sent to kill him. Tuck had more of Joshua than Yeshua in him. However, at the end, the victory comes as he rediscovers his call.

I would have liked to have seen this foreshadowed. I would have liked to have seen some sort of self doubt, questioning, or guilt. There were moments, but they were rare. A favorite scene in the book for me was at the end of chapter two when Tuck passes some dead soldiers and says:

"May God have mercy on their vile and wretched souls," Tuck whispered hastening away, "and grant them the peace they have denied to others." Thinking better of this crabbed prayer, he added, "Welcome them into Your eternal kingdom--but not for my sake, Good Lord, no--but for the sake of Your own dear son who always remembered to forgive His enemies. Amen."

I would have liked to have seen more moments like that in the book and fewer of Tuck praying for the arrows to fly true and "find their marks." The arrogant assumption that God must necessarily be on ones own side in a political conflict certainly has lead to great destruction of lives, communities and entire nations.

Interestingly enough, for me the most interesting and endearing character in his own way was King William. His misguided, but noble and sincere, attempt to atone for all the deaths he and his father had caused in battle was sad and touching. I would have liked to have seen more of this character. I suspect he is a more significant character in the other books. He comes across as a slightly clueless, reluctant warrior which is honestly more engaging than the cock sure Rhiban.

I warn potential readers that the book has a very high body count. Killing and bloodshed are glorified if in a "good cause." So, if that type of violence bothers you, then you might stay away from this book.

However, if you enjoy a well crafted medieval war story, this realistic re-telling of the Robin Hood myth is worth your time. Meanwhile check out the other sites on this tour.

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CSFF Blog Tour
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Blogger Frank Creed said...

Never read Lawhead, and the deeper into sci-fi life has taken me, the less I like fantasy. While I hear Lawhead is a master at historical fantasy, it is good to hear he's merely mortal!

I love that prayer--who says an author can't have fun with prayer! Good characterization.


May 22, 2009 at 8:20 AM  
Blogger Terri said...

I wouldn't call this one fantasy really. It's really historical drama involving mythical characters.

Surprisingly true to the times. However, I would have liked to have seen more moments with Friar Tuck like the one in the prayer.

I still think the most interesting character was William. Distressed about the money he is paying to an army of monks praying for the soul of his grandfather, yet fearful that if he does not his ancestor will be tormented in Hell for an eternity. Fearful of his own eternal destiny. Conscious of the blood on his hands, but fearful of what would happen if he stopped spilling it.

Much more complex, and IMHO, sympathetic than the cock-sure certainty of Rhibahn about the rightness of his cause and eager willingness to shed blood without fear or remorse to obtain it.

May 25, 2009 at 11:46 AM  

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