I really love historical fiction and the premise of this book is intriguing. Toby Venables gives us a somewhat altered view of English history and its main characters. It’s 1191 and England has been abandoned by its so-called king, Richard the Lionheart, who has bankrupted the country and is ravaging the Holy Land in his quest for personal glory. ‘The Hood’, (or Robin Hood as you may know him) lauded as a hero by many, is actually a treacherous force for chaos that must be stopped and Prince John, (traditionally the bad guy in this scenario) is the only one standing in his way, struggling to rescue England from itself and stop the malicious force that threatens to tear it apart.
Guy of Gisburne is Prince John’s weapon of choice in this fight. Imagine Agent M and James Bond set in medieval England. A soldier for hire, survivor of Hattin, and knight, Gisburne’s first quest takes him from the Tower of London, to France and to the crusader port of Marseille. Accompanied by an old and world-weary squire Galfrid ( I couldn’t help think of Bruce Wayne’s butler, Alfred. Seriously, it’s not just the name, even the characters are similar) Gisburne is thrown into increasingly vicious encounters with the man they call ‘The White Devil’, a fanatical templar. Gisburne is driven to clear his family name and stop ‘The Hood” and is helped along the way by protagonists such as Mélisande de Champagne (our Maid Marian character and initially a sympathiser for “The Hood”)
I believe this book suffers from the same predicament as its title – confusion. From the title alone, I initially assumed that this was not the beginning of a series (which in fact, it is) but a book featuring the title character from an established series. Reading the novel did nothing to change this impression. There is a great deal of personal history between the characters that is hinted at but not explained, so you continue to feel as if you’ve missed something – perhaps an entire book before this one.
“Hunter of Sherwood” opens with a character that is decidedly NOT Guy of Gisburne and yet in a few pages I feel more for this non-character than I ever do for Guy, the main protagonist. I was also initially worried about the purple-prose (far too many adjectives strung together to describe the same thing) but after the first few pages this seems to fade away as Venables becomes less self-conscious and more focused on the story.
It’s a good adventure story with an interesting premise that many historical fiction fans will enjoy. Personally, having read a great deal of historical fiction, I feel it’s a little too much like ‘fan fiction’ and lacks editing and polish.