Review first published 23/09/12
Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the evil Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only Big John and Robin Hood know the truth—the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. It’s getting harder to hide as Gisbourne’s camp seeks to find Scarlet and drive Robin Hood out of Nottinghamshire.
But Scarlet’s instinct for self-preservation is at war with a strong sense of responsibility to the people who took her in when she was on the run, and she finds it’s not so easy to turn her back on her band and townspeople. As Gisbourne draws closer to Scarlet and puts innocent lives at risk, she must decide how much the people of Nottinghamshire mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles and temper have the rare power to unsettle Scarlet.
Full of exciting action, secrets, and romance, this imaginative retelling of the classic tale will have readers following every move of Robin Hood and band of thieves.
A bought this book a few months ago because I liked the story of Robin Hood, particularly series like “Robin of Sherwood” and films like the classic “The Adventures of Robin Hood”, Disney’s “Robin Hood” and “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves”.
With so many retellings of this legend, was there room in the market for another retelling? In the case of “Scarlet”, I would have to say “Yes”, albeit because of the character from who we see this story from rather than the likes of Robin, John or Much.
A.C. Gaughen has created a fast paced tale where the action and adventure lead the way, but that’s not to say that it is done at the expense of character development, in fact in the case of Scarlet herself, it’s steeped in character development.
Following in the footsteps of strong female characters in YA novels such as Katniss Everdeen or Tris, Scarlet is a young woman who has to really push herself to her limits – both physically and emotionally. From the start of the novel, Scarlet is publically known as “Will Scarlet”, partly due to the fact that people would not take a female thief seriously and partly for reasons that become apparent throughout the novel (In fact, the device of making Scarlet a female character reminded me of the character of Djaq in the BBC “Robin Hood” series who also maquerades as a male). This sets up an interesting emotional dynamic internally as she has to grapple with her own demons which include her lack of self worth and not seeing herself as a heroic person (something she shows herself to be well up to the mark to throughout the book), as somebody who is one of the lower forms of criminal as a thief and as somebody who doesn’t see herself as being worthy of love or affection, and externally as she portrays somebody is surly and unapproachable but who also has the usual YA dynamic of a relationship triangle, in one way or another, throughout the book.
In addition to the main threads of Scarlet’s character, there is an ongoing thread involving the villain of the piece throughout which I don’t want to reveal for risk of spoiling this book for those who haven’t read it, and a minor plot point early on in the story which alludes to Scarlet having an eating disorder due to “off stage” experiences. This particular plot strand seemed to be picked up and dispatched within a couple of chapters in favour of the action based plot line, which is a shame as it could have been expanded upon to make the condition more relatable to readers.
The other members of the band are very much set by the dynamics laid out in various tellings of the legend – Robin the heroic leader who combines the Earl of Huntingdon and Robin of Locksley of legend whilst adding in that he is a former Crusader who finds himself the victim of a land grab by Prince John upon his return from the Holy Land because his father was deemed to be a traitor (as in “Prince of Thieves”) and as someone who has had a loss of faith due to his wartime experiences, John is the loyal sidekick to Robin who has a lust for life… and numerous women along with being the character who Scarlet has most of her conflicts with, and Much is the meek miller’s son who throughout the novel gets a chance to shine through displaying more intelligence and more spirit than has been previously portrayed especially as he is responsible for a key aspect to the story’s concluding scenes.
Although the Sheriff of Nottingham is featured in the book, Guy of Gisbourne is the main villain as he makes his presence felt, particularly where Scarlet is concerned. Unlike the more noble incarnations of Guy, this version is a mercenary thief taker, basically a “gun for hire”, who relishes in his villainy and cruelty to achieve his objectives and although he claims that his previous “off stage” experiences have shaped his character, you do get the feeling through the story that the villainy created the experiences as opposed to the other way round.
I completed this book within a week, but if I was not interrupted by “real life”, I could have probably completed it within a couple of days – it was that much of an immersive story with sword fights, oppression, heroism and rich in character (certainly for Scarlet).
Depending on how you see the ending, it either finishes the story with a fitting climax in its last lines or leaves the door open for a potential sequel.
“Scarlet” is a brilliant adventure novel which is pays homage to the legend on which it is based on with fresh ideas rather than being a carbon copy retelling which reflects on the fact that heroism can come from anyone – irrespective of shape, size or gender.
If you’d like to know more about “Scarlet” or A.C. Gaughen, please check out her blog.