"I am what the Goddess wants me to be. All things to all men."
The Wicker Tree was originally published in 2006 as Cowboys for Christ, but the title was later changed to match the name of the filmed version (2011). Normally I'd cynically bemoan such a change but the film was directed by the author, so it's not piggybacking sales on the strength of someone else's adaptation.
It’s Hardy’s semi-sequel to The Wicker Man (1978) but it has none of the same characters. It's a sequel only in that it once again explores the similarities and differences between two different faiths, namely Christianity and Paganism.
Batting for God are two young born-again Christians from America: a successful pop singer turned evangelical voice of an angel, Beth Boothby, and her rather dim cowboy fiancé, Steve Thompson. The two hopeful missionaries leave Texas to spread the good word in Tressock, a town of happy heathens situated close to the Scottish/English border. Many of the Goddess-worshipping Scots welcome the pair warmly, especially Sir Lachlan Morrison and his wife Delia. Lachlan is a businessman who also functions as a kind of well-respected town spokesperson.
The differences between the two cultures plays a crucial role. Robin Hardy returns to the subject often, sometimes playfully and sometimes sensitively. His writing is still occasionally awkward—there are continuity errors and unnecessary scenes that serve no purpose—but the structure, as before spread over just a few days, feels more natural than it did in The Wicker Man novelisation.
However, Beth and Steve are so fucking naïve that I found it impossible to get attached to either of them. They walk into dangerous situations clearly signposted from a mile away. If they weren't so Scooby-Doo dumb, if they had some believability to their actions and reactions, perhaps the exchanges and story twists would've felt more consequential and less shoehorned in.
Nevertheless, it's a better novel (but not a better story) than it's predecessor. I'm going to keep my fingers crossed that the novelisation of the next planned film, The Wrath of the Gods (2015), follows the trend and is better again.
3 stuffed birds out of 5