My preferences are not important. Just look at what I've read, note what's lacking, and tell me to read it posthaste.
Lawhead was a staple of my high-school reading diet, and I remember feeling at the time that his tie-ins to actual Celtic mythology and historical events and individuals was a refreshing change of pace from a lot of other fantasy fare I was reading. Returning to him now has been something of a drag. Lawhead’s voice is rather a dry one that allows his research to take command of the story. There is nothing wrong with placing your novel in a well researched setting, but there is a fine line between research that adds verisimilitude and flavor, and research that tries to make your fiction a substitute for actual history. Lawhead never quite dissolves into eyelid-drooping catalogues of detail that interrupt the story for multiple pages, but he does tend to add one or two details more than necessary whenever describing weapons, clothes, food, or buildings that bear on the characters and their situation only in passing. Mostly these details are there to appeal to reader looking for the vague overall feel of a “well-researched novel.”
More disappointing than the details that crowd the action, are the stale story and characters. Lawhead tries to freshen everything up, but while the setting is technically different, and a few slight details are rearranged, the characters never achieve any sense of depth beyond, or arguably even equal to, a generic sword and sorcery yarn from the 30’s pulps. The novel’s protagonist, Bran, takes his name from one of the Mabinogion’s heroes, whose story Lawhead completely rewrites, and not for the better. He is the archetypal young layabout who must rise to his circumstances. In this case he accepts the responsibility for his people, but Lawhead spends almost no time at all preparing the reader to accept that a character who almost runs away from his responsibility suddenly becomes a competent and charismatic leader and freedom fighter. The only allegedly transformative occurrence that takes place between the inciting incident and the rest of the novel is Bran’s convalescence under the care of an old sage living in the woods who recites bloodless doggerel that turns Bran’s goals almost completely around.
Even these shortcomings might be forgiven if Lawhead just regarded his story as nothing more than a jaunt, tried to liven up the poetry, and give the characters some flair, but the whole thing reads like your celtophilic Sunday school teacher’s attempt to make a sermon more accessible. The book isn’t really didactic, but neither is it especially insightful. Fortunately the novel concludes under 500 pages. I hold out a shred of hope for some improvement over the two remaining books in the trilogy, but I must confess the desire to get to them is not as strong as it was before I started reading Hood.