Holy Warrior is the second in Angus Donald’s ongoing series depicting the adventures of Robin Hood as seen through the eyes of his trusty but conflicted trouvère and swordsman Alan Dale. However, this is not the Robin Hood that you’re used to. If you haven’t read the first novel Outlaw, you might want to take a look at the review here. But I urge you to then read Outlaw not least so that you can read Holy Warrior.
Life is far more complicated for Robert, Earl of Locksley, than it ever was for outlaw Robin Hood. Despite the titles, the land, and even his marriage to his long betrothed, the beautiful Marie-Anne, all brought about by the return of Richard the Lionheart to claim his kingdom, the role of king’s man is far more dangerous than an outlaw’s life in the woods and caverns of Sherwood Forest. Not least when the cost of that royal patronage is the promise to support the king on his most consuming of endeavours – Holy Crusade. But when Robin takes the cross he’s not alone. Our lively, brave and loyal young narrator Alan Dale is now a lord of the manor himself but as one of Robin’s band of men he is bound to join with him on one of the most dangerous and brutal adventures of the Middle Ages.
However, not everything is as you might expect from a novel about England’s most famous loveable rogue and crusading chivalrous knights. This is life lived on an edge. Robin of Locksley knows what he wants and to get it anything becomes necessary and anyone becomes disposable. He may charm with those grey eyes but with a sword or bow in his hand he is ruthless and if, for example, he needs money to fund his cause, it doesn’t matter who you are if you’re in his way. He may be loyal to his men and wife but his actions on occasion leave his followers such as Friar Tuck, Little John and Alan Dale with a need to soul search. For Robin is indeed godless and for a knight on crusade that is not necessarily a good thing.
But these are dark days and nothing demonstrates this more than the first third of Holy Warrior. Before we even move onto the Crusade, Donald shows us the face of medieval religious lunacy in all its ugliness by focusing on a terrible time in English history, the persecution of the Jews in York in 1190. Nothing brings the horrors of these events home quite like setting our hero Alan and his lord Robin in their midst. These pages are not only gripping for the story they unfold, they are written brilliantly. I’ve always been interested in these events but I’ve not read a better dramatised account.
From York we move to the Mediterranean and Outremer, the Holy Land. The sheer brutality of the bloody war, contrasting with courtly chivalry and song duets with kings, makes for a powerful account of a time when idealism and godliness were confronted repeatedly by treachery, deceit and barbarism. There are events here that shock and not all of the victims are the men who took the cross and not all of the enemies are on the other side, far from it.
I thoroughly enjoyed Outlaw but in Holy Warrior Angus Donald has excelled himself. Alan Dale is a wonderful creation, perfectly placed to provide commentary on the many sides of this charismatic, brave and attractive legend who nevertheless could commit such dreadful acts of brutality. Donald has brought to life a hero we may think we know well and yet he has confounded all our expectations. In so doing, we are also given a vivid and evocative account of one of the most fascinating periods in our history. When you finish Holy Warrior I have no doubt that, like me, you will want to rush into the next, King’s Man.