It’s been a mostly quiet life since Robin Hood put aside his pregnant wife Marian, turned his back on his Merry Men and his former life and retreated to a monastery to repent his sins . . . although no one knows what was so heinous he would leave behind Sherwood Forest and those he loved most.
But when friends from their outlaw days start dying, Father Tuck, now the Abbott of St Mary’s, suspects a curse and begs Marian to use her magic to break it. A grieving Marian must bargain for protection for her children before she sets out with a soldier who’s lost his faith, a trickster Fey lord, and a sullen Robin Hood, angry at being drawn back into the real world.
It’s not long before Marian finds herself enmeshed in a maze of secrets and betrayals, tangled relationships and a vicious struggle for the Fey throne.
And if she can’t find and stop the spell-caster, no protection in Sherwood Forest will be enough to save her children.
A story where Maid Marian is a witch, Robin Hood is a grumpy older man with a whole bunch of secrets, and together they have to navigate Sherwood to find out who is killing their friends? All with the Fey court looming in the background? If that doesn’t sound amazing to you then… well, you do you, I suppose, but I reserve the right to judge your taste.
I have to admit that Brightfall wasn’t the sort of book I was expecting it to be. While I was expecting a bit of a murder mystery, this isn’t really that kind of book. Well, it is to an extent. It’s not the kind of story with lots of twists and turns, and where you find out that characters aren’t quite who you thought they were. Instead, it’s more of a sequence of relatively calm revelations.
The story unfolds at a steady, languid pace, with a style that feels quite charmingly old-fashioned. Sherwood comes to life as a place that hides magic behind every tree, with Fey lords and ladies, lesser fey and goblins, and even a dragon.
Marian herself is a great character. She’s reasoned, competent, and more than capable of getting herself out of a jam. When her partner (Will Scarlett) dies, she soon learns from Friar Tuck that he isn’t the only one from Robin Hood’s old group to have passed on. She reasons that they must be under a curse, and sets off with Robin to see if she can break it. Things are understandably tense between Robin and Marian — he “set her aside” twelve years ago, while she was pregnant — and that conflict is explored throughout the book in an engaging way, with lots of hurt feelings on either side.
The two pick up another pair of travelers to help them on their route — an ex-soldier from King Richard’s crusades, and a trickster Fey lord. I have to admit that I didn’t really connect with either of these two characters as much as I did with Marian. The presence of the soldier did allow for some more informed critique on the crusades than we usually see in Robin Hood stories, but the Fey lord to me just seemed like all-too-convenient way to move the story along. He would always know where to go, what to do, and was always there to pull the other characters out of trouble. Despite being labeled as a trickster, and consistently referred to as a trickster, he isn’t really shown to do much trickery.
In the end, I found Brightfall to be a bit of a strange little book. I enjoyed it, and found it to be a very relaxing read (though it does have it’s fair share of dark moments), but my engagement was more composed of interest than it was excitement.
If you’re a fan of Robin Hood stories, then this is an excellent fantasy re-imagining. If you’re looking for a get-off-your-seat exciting tale with lots of battles and high-paced action, then you might be better served looking elsewhere.
I received a copy of this book from the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for a fair and honest review.