Will Scarlet is on the run.
Once the sheltered son of nobility, Will has become an exile. While his father, Lord Shackley, has been on the Crusades with King Richard, a treacherous plot to unseat Richard has swept across England, and Shackley House has fallen.
Will flees the only home he’s ever known into neighboring Sherwood Forest, where he joins the elusive gang of bandits known as the Merry Men. Among them are Gilbert, their cruel leader; a giant named John Little; a drunkard named Rob; and Much, an orphan girl disguised as a bandit boy.
This is the story of how a band of misfit outlaws become heroes of legend – thanks to one brave 13-year-old boy.
Has anyone watched the BBC’s Robin Hood? It turned into a hot mess in season three, but I devoured the whole show in a week back in 2011. And let’s not talk about my love of Disney’s Robin Hood, or Men in Tights, or Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves. So I immediately grabbed it when I saw it and it didn’t disappoint me at all. I read a lot of female authors, so it’s nice to get one or two men in there every once in a while. We meet Will Shackley at the end of King Richard’s Crusades, when the king and his men are sailing back for England. Will’s uncle is ruling in his brother’s stead while Lord Shackley fights in the Crusades. Mark Brewer is the Sheriff of Nottingham, a job he’s now realizing may be too much for him, an old friend of Will’s uncle. The standard story follows: Prince John (who I may always see as a cartoon lion) rules England in Richard’s stead, but has grander plans, some involving the Horse Knight, Guy of Gisborne. Gisborne is the one responsible for Will’s flight, because Gisborne is a douche. It’s that simple. He’s always a jerk in every Robin Hood retelling, but even when I expect his treachery and underhandedness, I still find myself getting angry and hating him. You’d think I’d be used to it. So after a manufactured incident involving a serving maid and Gisborne’s gross “man of bribes,” Will is off to begin his exile/adventures.
At the same time, we meet Much, or Marianna, a miller’s daughter. Her father fell victim to the somewhat tired “my spouse died and now I am useless” disease before he died all selfishly (I kid! Besides, Robin Hood is a romantic story itself, so we can let that slide a little), spurring Much to try passing as a boy. She has since joined the Merry Men in Sherwood Forest. The Merry Men, if you’re unaware, is a gang of bandits, and we meet old favorites like John Little in this second part. The cast of the Merry Men is pretty hilarious, including Stout, a somewhat slow and hard-of-hearing bandit. They come across Will one day, wounded on his horse, and we learn it’s been months since he fled his home and Gisborne. This might seem like a silly middle-grade romp in the woods, but it’s full of sadness and death and blood. Will loses some friends along the way, as one does. Around the time Will meets up with the Merry Men, I started wondering if the drunken Rob, supposedly a legendary bowman, was Robin Hood brought down by something emotionally damaging. Maid Marian, perhaps, or her death? Those were my guesses, and I won’t tell you if they were right!
The story alternates between Much and Will’s points of view, and I appreciated that. There was a difference in their characters communicated by the narrative that can be rare in this genre. Women aren’t any better at writing boys than men are at writing girls, in my opinion. They usually have the exact same voice, and while Much and Will were similar, they were separate enough that I noticed. I really had almost no objections to this one. It was a fun romp, but it also contained emotional depth and politics of the era, and I think this novel will appeal to both boys and girls of the middle-grade persuasion. I really enjoyed reading this one, and I look forward to more from Matthew Cody.