Jaime Lee Moyer revisits the story of Robin Hood in her new novel Brightfall. Brightfall is set twelve years after the events that are commonly known from the Robin Hood folk tales. But Moyer takes a more fantastical approach to the material that is also a murder mystery of sorts, a combination that she manages to slip easily into the setting.
The book opens with Marian, who lives with her two children in the heart of Sherwood Forest, receiving some devastating news. Will Scarlett is dead from mysterious causes. This is just one of many deaths of the gang that used to run with them (the Merry Men), deaths that include the young son of their old compatriot, John. Abbot Tuck suspects sorcery and as Marian is a witch, he believes that she can help investigate. On her way to see Tuck, Marian pauses to commune with the Fae, seeking their protection for her children. And when she arrives she is partnered with her estranged husband Robin, who years before had sought an annulment of their marriage and took himself off to live in a monastery.
As Marian and Robin start to investigate the deaths they find evidence of dangerous magic associated with the fairy folk. The pair pick up travelling companions as they go including the consort of the fairy queen, a former soldier, a dog and a fox. All of these companions are needed as they face off against a range of mythical creatures (including griffins and grindylows) and evil magic in their search for the killers.
By focussing on Marian, Moyer gives a new twist and insight into the original Robin Hood story without rehashing it or slavishly following it. Marian herself is wise, resourceful but also cautious with the powers that she is dealing with, suspecting rightly that there are things that there are facts that are being kept from her. While Marian is a delight as a character, Robin is moody, rude and unhelpful despite the obvious threat to his family and old friends. While this, and his history with Marian, is eventually explained, it is a tough trip to get there.
Brightfall is an interesting mix of genres. Historical, traditional fantasy with a hint of murder mystery thrown in. The fantasy elements fundamentally confound the mystery elements. Once a Fae character who can see glimpses of the future is introduced it feels like the die is cast. He constantly makes suggestions – who should join them and where they should go – because of this power, suggestions which are used to drive the plot forward. He also, as it turns out, knows exactly what is going on from the start but feels it is better (for plot reasons only) if Marian works it out for herself. So that much of the middle section of the book becomes Marian’s journey of discovery of information that other characters she is travelling with knew all along, which makes the journey feel a little frustrating, at least in retrospect.
Brightfall plays with a well-known folk tale and twists it in new and interesting directions through fantastical folk elements. The murder mystery element keeps the whole enterprise afloat and ties strongly into the fairy lore that the reader picls up along the way. It is an effective experiment and original fantasy for those tired of the usual sword and prophecy fare.