Since Alan Dale burst into the fray with sword and poignard in Outlaw (2009), Angus Donald has been reworking the Robin Hood legend anew with serious cojones. More Godfather than Man in Tights, by latching it on to real history any sense of “Yeah, as if!” is dismissed and replaced by a believability. Obviously the key elements remain, from Marie-Anne and the Merry Men to conniving Princes and henchmen that can only be described as absolute bastards, but even so the legends have been given a new lease of life and woven into a coherent narrative.
The aptly-named The Death of Robin Hood picks up more or less immediately after the events of The King’s Assassin. The Magna Carta might have been signed, but the First Barons’ War has begun and we are thrust immediately into the siege of Rochester Castle. England is in turmoil, and when Prince Louis of France invades (it did happen, and historians argue whether or not he should be counted in the roll of English monarchs) the rebellious barons are forced to decide where their loyalties really lie, and Robin and Alan find themselves alone against the invasion forces.
The action is as thrilling as ever, indeed more so, but it is the skullduggery and the relationships between the characters that keep you turning the pages well into the night. It’s a family piece, and as age has been allowed to take hold of members throughout there has been an increasing poignancy to it. You never know which way any of them are going to jump, least of all Robin himself, and even after seven volumes it still catches you by surprise. I’ve banged on about this series to people since the beginning, and doubtless will continue to do so.
What really made me smile, however, was the appearance of William of Cassingham. Also known as Willikin of the Weald, he was a Kentish squire who waged a guerrilla war against the French invaders. Many a county likes to lay claim to being home of the real Robin Hood, and for those of us from Kent Willikin is our claim.
As with the previous entries, The Death of Robin Hood, while serious enough, still manages to have fun. It is a Robin Hood for our time, and although some will lament the series’ end, going out like this, still as strong and gut-wrenching as Outlaw was seven years ago, is incredibly satisfying. As it says on the cover, “Heroes fall. Legends live forever.”
How very true.
Postscript. The film Ironclad (Jonathan English, 2011), a medieval Magnificent Seven set against the siege of Rochester Castle, is seriously underrated and well worth a watch. The cast includes James Purefoy, Brian Cox, Kate Mara, Paul Giamatti, Mackenzie Crook, Derek Jacobi and Charles Dance … what’s not to like?!