Shadow of the Wolf by Tim Hall
Published by David Flicking Books/Scholastic, May 26, 2015. Hardcover of 480 pages at $18.99. Intended for ages 14 and up.
Notes: I received an advanced copy to read, so any aspect of the book may have changed by publication. This book was released in the U.K. in 2014 before being picked up by Scholastic.
The cover: A face emerges from the darkness. The right side looks like a werewolf, while the left looks like an intense young man. Both eyes show intensity and promise danger. The book’s title is in simple, bold white lettering at the top, with the author’s name in similar font at the bottom. This image was created by Richard Collingridge and it’s a good tease to readers. It shows the dual nature of Robin, or what he will become at some later point. Very powerful. Overall grade: A
The premise: From the inside front cover, “Forget everything you’ve ever heard about Robin Hood. Robin Loxley is seven years old when his parents disappear without a trace. Years later the great love of his life, Marian, is also taken from him. Driven by these mysteries, and this anguish, Robin follows a darkening path into the ancient heart of Sherwood Forest. What he encounters there will leave him transformed…” Using this information and the imagery from the cover, I’m suspecting that Robin will be a werewolf or have those abilities. I enjoy Robin Hood stories and I like fantasy, so I’m expecting to read a nice blend of the two. Overall grade: A
The characters: The book opens with Robin and Marion at the ages of seven and progressing into their late teens/early twenties. Robin begins as a wild boy, disobedient of the family that’s raising him, since his parents are dead, and spending most of his time in the woods learning its traits. He frequently gets into fights with other boys who pick on him, which is a good way for writer Hall to create sympathy for the child. When Marion is around his character takes a back seat to her verbally and physically. He is wholly devoted to her, as one would expect, and would do anything for her. He is practically a mute automaton that does her bidding. Without spoiling the story, when Marion leaves him the first time he grows several years, interacting with more people and learning how to fight. When she leaves him a second time he gains the fantasy abilities that the cover teased, but for a price. It is stated that there are three types of power that he may utilize, and he uses one in this book. It seems very clear that each of the following two books in this trilogy will use another. Dark Robin was interesting, being so different from his character in other tales, but the tragic nature of his relationship with Marion was lacking because he is so subservient to her. Marion from the get-go is absolutely annoying. She is constantly chattering, nagging, and ordering him about. I hated her character. I was ecstatic when she wasn’t in the book, and dreaded each of her returns. In the final third of the novel something occurs that changes her personality, but turns her into a revolutionary leader. It was too great a character swing for me. Because she was such a major portion of this book, she killed my enjoyment of it. The antagonists of the book are twofold: human and magical. Again without spoiling things, there is a nice twist with the human villain that is causing Robin and the people problems, as well as the conflict within Robin, but the magical villain is obvious from the start, and is so vague as to be uninteresting. Being a trilogy it’s expected that more of this baddie’s background and motives will be revealed, but for now I just didn’t care. It’s difficult to enjoy a bood when the focus of the main character is so annoying and the villain is so blasé. Overall grade: D-
The settings: Expected settings with Robin Hood include a forest, a castle, and the villagers’ homes. All three are here and are nicely described, with the location where Robin and Marion spend most of their youth excellent. That was an unexpected site and I enjoyed how Hall described it. The forest is also described well, with the right tone of reality and mythology combined. Hall neatly makes the forest a haven and a hell. Overall grade: A
The action: Because this book starts with Robin at such a young age, there is not a lot of action that can happen to him without him being maimed or killed. It is only when he hits his teens that some rougher — expected — action can begin. I enjoyed all of the action until the fantasy elements kicked in, which surprised me. Robin gains an ability that the cover eludes to, but it’s not in the traditional mode. Instead, the abilities gained are somewhat similar to Venom from The Amazing Spider-Man comics. I’ve never been a fan of this type of ability, which is employed in other forms of fiction, so I held some strong feelings whenever it appeared. The final segment involving Marion was interesting, but very over the top for what had been seen before. It’s done to strengthen up her character, but it was a stretch. Overall grade: C
The conclusion: There isn’t one, since this is the first in a trilogy. The villains remain at full strength, though the lovers are reunited (somewhat), and some past mysteries are revealed. This wasn’t satisfying. Overall grade: D+
The final line: This was not enjoyable to read. The leads do not work well together and the fantasy elements were unoriginal. Nothing encourages me to read the next two books when released. Overall grade: C-