Friendly Fire is the strongest release of the Robin Hood audiobook series thus far. It explores some of the moral implications that the series does not, and the transformation of Robin into Robin Hood, a man whose tale would be told for centuries.
During yet another fight with Gisborne, one of Robin’s arrows goes astray, killing one of the peasants he is sworn to protect. Robin is now a murderer. Robin feels that if he cannot keep his oath, he should no longer lead the band of outlaws. How can he claim to be fighting for the oppressed when he killed one of them? Even the villagers are against him now – they’re leading a gang into Sherwood to find Robin and exact vengeance for the death of one of their own.
There are a few knowing nods towards the modern day, particularly a line by Tuck that references the current financial crisis. This was less jarring than expected; taxes did play an important role in early medieval England (although I doubt they had recapitalisation schemes). Gisborne is keen to use this to his advantage, by cutting taxes to those who support him against Robin Hood. Robin circumvents these plans by giving himself up. His sense of honour demands that he do so, and it’s up to Tuck to convince him that he shouldn’t die for an accident.
I did find it somewhat disconcerting that the character arguing that accidental manslaughter was not a problem was a man of God. However, considering the circumstances, Tuck’s actions are probably justified – even if they are in direct violation of a commandment.
Robin’s guilt is absolutely perfect: affecting, but not overly whiny. Tuck responds by telling him about how important he is to the kingdom. This is not a new theme for the series, but Tuck’s speech is well written and extremely well-acted. Tuck addresses the challenges Robin faces as an honorable man living outside the law, and what it means to be Robin Hood. Tuck’s speech is worth the price of admission by itself.
The relationship between Robin and Tuck is the focus of the audio, and the rest pales a bit in comparison. There is little time directed towards the secondary characters, but this did not detract from the story. David Harewood is less adept at imitating the rest of the cast than either Jonas Armstrong or Richard Armitage. These problems are easily overlooked – this release made me want nothing more than a Robin and Tuck two-hander (similar to the Doctor Who: Gallifrey series’ Romana and Leela release, Spirit).
Chronologically, this release could fit as early as Total Eclipse or as late as Sings of the Father. Kate does appear, but the outlaws don’t know her very well. Isabella does not, so it’s clearly before Let the Games Commence. Therefore, I would place this as early in the season as possible – after Cause & Effect, The Witchfinders and The Tiger’s Tail, but before Lost in Translation.
Finally, this release delivers on the promise shown by earlier releases. This is what I hoped for from the Robin Hood audio series.
Friendly Fire (by Trevor Baxendale; read by David Harewood) was released by Big Finish Productions in May 2009.