THE HOOD by Lavie Tidhar
Head of Zeus, pb, £8.99
Reviewed by Stephen Frame
Best to look away now if you’re after a straightforward, heroes and villains fantasy tale. Same if you’re looking for a story that sticks to story-telling conventions. THE HOOD will gift you neither. If you’re after something that kicks convention out the window and then jumps after it, stick around. This might be for you.
THE HOOD is an odd novel. The prose is sharp, the character’s voices modern. It’s hip, slick and knowing. At times, it doesn’t so much break the fourth wall, as stage dive clean through it. The use of present tense for much of the narrative adds to this sharp edge.
The story is set, in the main, around Sherwood and Nottingham. In this telling, the mundane and Fae worlds overlap and intertwine. Familiar characters from the Robin Hood mythos wander in and out of the narrative on several errands and tasks, often to do with murder, drugs and crime. This is the weakness in the story; the sharp prose can only carry this so far. The errands and missions often lead to little in the way of pay-off, revelation or conflict for the characters. While there are interesting set-piece scenes and sequences, particularly the quest of Alan a’ Dale, who turns out to be a female assassin searching for her sister’s killer, the arc of the story feels flat, the main players unchanging, simply going about their business. The effect is they stay distant, the emotional attachment is transient. The reading of the story becomes more about spotting the knowing nods to contemporary life hidden in the text and picking up on the mash-up of folk tales the author uses.
There are some unusual uses of formatting in the book. At several points, the narrative is in the form of a letter, with the words of the letter interspersed with high-lighted text that might be the unwritten thoughts of the letter-writer. One chapter of the book is presented as the script of a play. These devices only push the reader further away from immersion in the story.
THE HOOD is a challenging read simply because of the lack of emotional investment. As a demonstration of what can be achieved in pushing the boundaries of the genre, it is worth the effort for those readers who don’t want so much to read a story as have an experience.