Last year, I reviewed By Force Alone, an Arthurian retelling that pulled no punches and reinvented the famous legends around Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table. Like all Lavie Tidhar novels, it was an invigorating read. By Force Alone, it turns out, was the first novel in a quartet: The Anti-Matter of Britain. Now the second book has arrived, move over Kevin Costner, The Hood is in town.
What is The Hood?
Tidhar’s Anti-Matter of Britain series is a modern retelling of classic English legends. Whilst The Hood is set during the time of The Crusades, its narrative style is firmly up to date. Lavie Tidhar has drawn on various iterations of the myth to weave his own version of Robin Hood’s narrative.
Central to this story are Nottingham and Sherwood Forest; a town surrounded by an eldritch forest. At the heart of the novel lies the Maid Marian, the Major Oak, faeries, and other fey creatures. The story of The Hood takes elements of Robin Hood and stretches them from the reign of Stephen (and Mathilde) up to King John and Henry III. It’s a duration of around 100 years and takes in several Robins and three different Sherrif of Nottinghams.
Why Read The Hood?
If you like Lavie Tidhar’s work, you will love The Hood. If you have never read him before, I’d be tempted to suggest starting with By Force Alone. It will give you a more gentle immersion into the madcap, irreverent nature of the author. Whilst nominally part of the same series, the two books can be read entirely independently of one another.
I’m not going to lie, The Hood made me feel a little dim. It’s stuffed full of reference, both ridiculous and sublime, but I had a nagging suspicion that whilst I was focusing on the detail, I was missing an altogether cleverer bigger picture. Nevertheless, there is much to admire about The Hood.
First, you have the reworking of classic Robin Hood tropes. All of the major players are here, Will Scarlett, Little John, and Friar Tuck. They’re depicted as you’ve never seen them but also more as they probably were; soldiers returned from a terrible conflict in the Middle East. Will Scarlett in particular reminded me the worn-torn characters from Peter Mclean’s Tomas Piety novels.
Elements of the book are also similar to another novel I read this year, Sistersong, including the singing of the song The Twa Sisters. This was an unexpected but gratifying confluence. The two novels complement each other nicely.
The stories are a hodgepodge of magic and misdirection. As a reader, you have no idea where the tales might go next. Within them, questions of identity and religion bubble to the surface, and, as with many of Lavie Tidhar’s novels the nature of Jewishness and the treatment and representation of Jews forms an important facet of the narrative.
Less seriously are the countless riffs on genre tropes and pop culture references. It’s the sort of book that makes you want to immediately return to the beginning to see if you can pick up any references you missed on the first journey round. Things like a story about the Holy Grail being kept by Roman secret agents in “Area Quinquaginta Ununs,” gatekeepers called Bert and Ernest, and an entirely fictional village of Arkham, found close to the entirely real-world Gotham. The book also references the Arthur legends, with some great call backs to By Force Alone.
I don’t think there is anybody operating quite like Lavie Tidhar right now. The Hood is a multi-layered novel. Brash and bombastic on the surface but thoughtful and reverential underneath. Tidhar has a knack for setting novels in the past that at the same time remain wholly contemporary. Some may find his style abrasive (I did at times during The Hood) but that’s sort of the point; the merry men were not that merry.
His Anti-Matter of Britain looks at our legends, examines the purposes and means by which they were created, and asks us to question other myths about those in power, both ancient and modern. Whilst examining our past and the stories we tell, Lavie Tidar is encouraging us to look closely at the future we are creating right now.
If you’d like to pick up a copy of The Hood you can do so here, in the UK. There isn’t currently a US edition though you can pick up the UK edition on Amazon.com. There is a US edition of By Force Alone, here. (Affiliate link.)
If you enjoyed this review, check out my other book reviews, here.
Disclosure: I received a copy of this book, in order to write this review.