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A clattery medieval adventure spooked with grue, unstrung villains, and two hero/victims who are, alas, strung up at the close after narrow-escaping too many times. Hero #1 is Samson Hooke, apprentice to apothecary Nathaniel Buckle, as nasty a con-man as ever pounded a pestle--and when the unholy local Prior, Roger Audley, uses innocent Samson to poison Buckle (who apparently does expire), it looks as if Samson will be charged with murder. (Buckle had been blackmailing Audley, who broke his vows to sire a child: the unaware Samson himself.) Therefore, Samson hies to the wilds of Cranborne Chase, where he meets Hero #2: Thomas Woodward, a peasant outlawed for striking back at Prior Audley's atrocities. Thomas tutors Samson in archery, and the two begin some highway robbery. But Audley is on the march, so Thomas and Samson join King Edward III on one of his French campaigns (the Battle of CrÉcy), attracting the favorable notice of the Black Prince. And the other villain pursues them too: yes, Buckle in fact is alive and tittering--destined to pop up now and then throughout. Still, after barely escaping the gallows (they're recognized by one of their highway victims), the heroes have a brief hiatus of sunlit possibilities--Thomas in London with freedom papers, Samson becoming a physician in Salisbury. But clouds soon gather again, of course: the Black Death brings misery; Thomas' mum is killed as a witch at Audley's instigation. And so Samson, urged by Thomas' beautiful sister Matilda (who'll bear Sam's child), returns to the Chase with Thomas for some new outlawing . . . and a visit to ""Robin Hood."" (Not the real one-and-only Robin, of course--just someone who explains that he's ""a peg to hang your hope on when you've no hope left."") Finally, then, the two nasties meet appropriate deaths, and ""Robin"" advises Samson and Thomas to cancel a planned peasant-rights march on London--but their outlaw deeds nonetheless catch up with them at last. Steamy period ambience, elemental villains, busy action--a diverting 14th-century oater.

Pub Date: Oct. 1st, 1981
Publisher: Hamish Hamilton (North Pomfert, VT 05053)