Who was Robin Hood? Romantic legend casts him as outlaw, archer, and hero of the people, living in Sherwood Forest with Friar Tuck, Little John and Maid Marian, stealing from the rich to give to the poor - but there is no historical proof to back this up. The early ballads portray a quite different figure: impulsive, violent, vengeful, with no concern for the needy, no merry band, and no Maid Marian.
Hodd provides a possible answer to this famous question, in the form of a medieval document rescued from a ruined church on the Somme, and translated from the original Latin. The testimony of an anonymous monk, it describes his time as a boy in the greenwood with a half-crazed bandit called Robert Hodd - who, following the thirteenth-century principles of the 'heresy of the Free Spirit', believes himself above God and beyond sin. Hodd and his crimes would have been forgotten without the boy's minstrel skills, and it is the old monk's cruel fate to know that not only has he given himself up to apostasy and shame, but that his ballads were responsible for turning a murderous felon into the most popular outlaw hero and folk legend of England, Robin Hood.
Written with his characteristic depth and subtlety, his sure understanding of folklore, his precise command of detail, Adam Thorpe's ninth novel is both a thrilling re-examination of myth and a moving reminder of how human innocence and frailty fix and harden into history.
Adam Thorpe's novel is richly enjoyable on many levels...no prior knowledge of the Robin Hood legend is necessary to appreciate the lustrous prose, the humanity and the exuberant inventiveness of this strange and lovely book
Extraordinary narrative...gripping and unrelenting in its remarkable portrayal of the underside of medieval society...no-one who reads this will think of Robin Hood and his merry men in quite the same way again
A fascinating and complex novel - as remarkable in its way as Ulverton
A testament to Thorpe's talent as a storyteller... Medieval England, in all its brutality, is brought vividly to life by Thorpe's insight and impressive scholarship
A tour de force around an elusive thirteenth-century figure who may, or may not, have been the original fantasy Robin Hood we think we know and love. Let's hope this year's Booker lot are up to estimating this wonderfully subtle and layered book at its true worth