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With such novels as Sarum and Russka, Edward Rutherfurd has laid claim to James Michener's longtime turf: the immensely researched, meticulously detailed epic of place, in which the characters tend to play second fiddle to the setting. The Forest is the most ambitious example yet of Rutherfurd's art. This time the location is that bosky patch of English real estate known as the New Forest. Other writers have tackled the area before. But The Forest is surely the definitive chronicle, with all the local stories, legends, and apocrypha woven into an irresistible narrative--think of Thomas Hardy's power and drama filtered through a very modern sensibility.
Opening with the assassination of King William II in 1099, the book covers nearly a millennium's worth of history. Rutherfurd creates generation after generation of adroitly realized characters, the best of whom defy our generic expectations: the canny Brother Adam, for example, is that rarest of literary creatures, a virtuous man who doesn't end up being simply bland and anodyne. Rutherfurd may be at his best when dealing with big-canvas events like the bloody Monmouth Rebellion of 1685. But he's no slouch at detailing more microcosmic conflicts, like this head-butting contest between two buck deer:
Her buck had hit firmer ground and his feet suddenly got a purchase on the grass. His hindquarters shivering, he dug in. She saw the shoulders rise and his neck bear down. And now the interloper was slipping on the wet leaves. Slowly, cautiously, their antlers locked, the two straining bucks began to turn. Now they were both on grass. Suddenly the interloper disengaged. He gave his head a twist. The jagged spike was aiming at the buck's eye.
Bestial behavior? Perhaps. Yet the level of human folly and brutality scattered throughout The Forest makes the foregoing passage resemble an outtake from Bambi--and gives this sylvan saga a very memorable edge. --Barry Forshaw --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.