by Stephen R. Lawhead
Series: King Raven Trilogy #1
448 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Steward

An exciting but complex tale, with moral issues.


When his father is killed on his way to swear fealty to King William Rufus, Bran ap Brychan becomes the new King of the Welsh Cantref of Elfael...only to discover that his land has been taken over by Count Falkes De Braose, the man who murded King Brychan.

Caught up in the ruthless world of Norman politics, Bran takes refuge in the primeval forests of the Marchlands. Here he meets Angharad, the last Banfaith of Britain, who reveals to him his true destiny - to save Elfael by becoming the mysterious King Raven.


Unlike Lawhead's other books where who is good and who is evil are very clearly defined, in this story the lines are a lot more blurry.

While it is clear that Count De Braose has taken Elfael unlawfully (King Brychan was on his way to swear fealty to the King and it is later discovered that the land should be managed by the Baron De Braose, not his nephew), Bran's reaction is also quite dubious.

When his attempts to gain Elfael back lawfully fail, Bran takes to the woods and eventually decides to take the land back by force. To achieve this he will rob Normans who pass through the woods. None of the characters in Bran's band seem to have a problem with this. They do, however, give some of the loot they obtain to starving families.

The Normans also behave quite violently, seeing the Welsh not as people, but as animals that must be ordered about and forced to submit to superiour Norman will.

Spiritual Content

Angharad is a Banfaith, or Prophetess, and tells Bran many stories involving magic and the gods from Celtic Mythology. However, it is made clear that above all she serves God.

Several monks appear, as does Friar Tuck, who are all willing servants of God and pray regularly. One of the Norman barons seeks the advice of his priest and attends Church.


The book opens with King Brychan and his war band being killed by Norman soldiers. Several other soldiers and villagers are killed through out the book both by the Normans and by Bran and his band.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Most of the characters drink wine or beer at various points throughout the book.

Sexual Content

Bran attempts to kiss Merian but she refuses. Baron Nurfmarch seems to show and interest in her, despite being married.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

Most of the characters other than the monks take God's name in vain on several occasions. Normans are also referred to as swine.


Taking the story of Robin Hood from its usual time and place could have gone very wrong, but Lawhead manages to pull it off beautifully. You can really believe that this is the true story behind the legend.

As the first story in the trilogy this book is a bit slow to start, as it sets the scene and principle characters. However, it speeds up about halfway through and is nonstop from there on out.

As good as this book is, however, the moral issues are a cause for concern. Bran's decision to resort to robbery and violence in order to reclaim his land is never really given any thought - instead it is accepted instantly. The fact that some of what he obtains is given to the poor does off set this slightly, but not much.

I would advise that this book not be given to anyone under the intended age range, and parents should read it first to see if they approve of some of the more complex moral issues.

Fun Score: 5
Values Score: 2.5
Written for Age: 13+

Review Rating:

Average rating: 5 stars
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