Saturday, June 15, 2019

Trouble in the Forest

Under the pen name "Trystam Kith," Chelsea Quinn Yarbro wrote a pair of vampire novels very different from her Saint-Germain series. In the "Trouble in the Forest" duology, set during the reign of King Richard the Lionhearted, while his brother Prince John ruled England in Richard's absence, Yarbro presents familiar legendary characters from a new and strange perspective. Prince John is portrayed as an intelligent, highly educated, just ruler instead of a villain, the Sheriff of Nottingham is the hero, and Robin Hood and his Merry Men are—vampires.

The first volume, A COLD SUMMER NIGHT (2004), begins as Hugh deSteny, Sheriff of Nottingham under the lordship of Sir Gui deGisbourne, receives a dreadful report from a forest warden. A family of humble crofters has been slaughtered. Upon viewing the crime scene, Hugh immediately suspects something worse than human murderers. A former Crusader, he saw strange things in the Holy Land, so he knows of the living dead who drink blood. From priests of the Greek church, he learned how to deal with those creatures. Further attacks convince him that his first assumption is true, and he strives to protect his people against the undead who haunt the forest. The outlaws are cunning as well as bloodthirsty and strong, however, and several groups of travelers fall to them, including even armed men forewarned of the danger. We see how Alan a Dale, Little John, and Friar Tuck (here called simply the Red Friar, for the color of his order's habit) get captured and converted. Although these vampires are diabolically evil in the traditional way, they have intelligence and personalities. The Friar tries to resist his change into a creature of the Devil, only to discover that he can no longer pray or handle holy objects and that the craving for blood is inexorable.

Matters become worse when Sir Gui insists on having his prospective bride, Marian, escorted to him through the forest by an inadequate contingent of guards. Once captured by "Hood" and his band, Marian takes to her new life with relish. She didn't have much enthusiasm for her arranged marriage to a man she'd never met anyway. Hugh struggles to make Sir Gui understand the true danger of the outlaws, while coping with other obstructions to carrying out his duty. The book ends as Sir Gui prepares to carry out his scheme of trapping Hood and his gang with an archery contest.

Book II, A BRIGHT WINTER SUN (2004), completes the tale. As one would expect from a veteran author of historical horror such as Yarbro, "Trystam Kith" vividly renders the environment and culture of early medieval England, with the ever-present threats that lurk in the wild forest lying in wait just outside the towns, monasteries, and citadels or off the well-traveled roads. Hugh deSteny is a believable, sympathetic character, and the other people in the story have credible goals and motives, including Robin Hood's undead band. The term "vampire" doesn't appear until about halfway through the book, perhaps anachronistically, since the word wasn't recorded in English until the 1730s; by the time it pops up, however, the reader has become immersed deeply enough in the story to allow the author this license.

Margaret L. Carter

Explore love among the monsters at Carter's Crypt.


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