Like most people from my generation, my love of the Robin Hood myth began with the Disney cartoon. What’s not to like? There’s a cheeky little fox in a feathered cap singing songs and robbing from the rich to give to the poor. Since then, I’ve discovered that there are approximately 87,602 versions of Robin Hood floating around out there. And while I’ve checked out a lot of these versions (Princess Consuela and I got sucked into the incredibly campy BBC show a few years ago. Check it out if you ever want to see the shiniest armor that ever shined.), there’s also a sense there couldn’t possibly be any more ways that you could tell this story. Enter Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen (Walker 2012). It tells the Robin Hood myth from the point of Will Scarlet, who happens to be a girl in disguise. Sold!
The plot is pretty typical Robin Hood, although the characters are all in their teens/early twenties. Former nobleman Robin is the broody leader of his gang of outlaws. There’s John Little, the frat boyish muscle, and Much the Miller, the everyman who lost his hand when he was caught poaching food for his family. And then there’s Scarlet, aka Scar, the scrappy thief. Robin’s gang is getting away with so much that the Sheriff of Nottingham brings in Guy of Gisbourne, a notorious Thief Taker and man from Scar’s mysterious past, to stop them. This new dangerous foe, along with romantic tensions within the group, threaten to destroy the gang.
I think the concept behind the story is a great one, but I have more mixed feelings about the execution. I’m feeling a bit lazy today, so I thought I’d just list out the things that I liked and disliked about the book.
- Scarlet is a strong, intelligent, and generous heroine. I also like that Scar is a badass knife-fighter, but has her limitations. She’s naturally smaller than her opponents, so if they land a punch, she goes down hard. But she’s so quick, that they hardly land a punch.
- Have I mentioned that I really love stories about thieves? Particularly thieves that steal for noble reasons. Because I do.
- In the author’s note, Gaughen talks about how there’s been a long tradition of writing women out of history and attributing their contributions to men and how the concept behind Scarlet was born out of that idea. Not that she insists this is actually what happened or whatever, but I love the idea of putting women back into their rightful place in history or historical fiction.
- Similarly, I’ve always been fascinated with stories like this that propose alternate perspectives to traditional tales or events.
- I’ve found Much to be really irritating in other Robin Hood incarnations, but he’s he’s really endearing in this one! Who knew?
- I liked the tweaks that Gaughen made to the traditional Friar Tuck and Maid Marian roles.
- This kind of story ALWAYS has the unsuspecting girl who has a crush on the girl disguised as a boy, and this is no exception. I’m a fan.
- Every time they called her Scar, I thought of The Lion King and started singing Be Prepared in my head. I’m ok with this.
- Kickass nature aside, Scarlet can be very whiny and clueless. I also think she comes across as too young sometimes. Yes, she’s only 18, but she’s 18 in medieval times (Not the restaurant, although that place rocks), which I’ve been led to believe that 18 year-olds were a lot more mature then than they are now, what with the shorter lifespan and all.
- And the other merry men, particularly Robin, treats her like a child sometimes. I get that they would feel overprotective of the lady in their midst, but it rubbed my modern sensibilities the wrong way.
- The pacing is a little uneven. There’s a bit too much moping around in the woods for my taste.
- This is completely subjective, but I’m not a fan of dialect in general, so I didn’t care for Scar’s low class, street thief manner of speaking. I get that authors want to be authentic, but I find that kind of affected dialogue more distracting than helpful.
- I prefer my Robin Hoods to be saucy rather than emo, and this Robin Hood is definitely emo. Plus he’s kind of a dick.
- Must every YA book have a love triangle? Is that really necessary? And this isn’t even a very good one. John’s feelings for Scar pop up out of nowhere and Robin clearly has romantic feelings for her, but doesn’t say anything and acts all slut-shamey when anyone else takes an interest in Scar. Plus, a good love triangle only happens when you can see the heroine with either love interest. Do we really think that anyone would choose John over Robin Hood? He’s freaking Robin Hood!
- This is a little spoilery, but: “You called me a whore, Rob. You said awful things.” “Ah,” he said, and his hand took mine again, tight. “Hurting you is the best way I know to punish myself. And, despite that I’m not much proud of it, I can’t truly control myself when I see you even looking at John.” (p 284-285) WHAT THE HELL! THIS IS A TERRIBLE THING TO PUT IN A YA BOOK. OR ANY BOOK REALLY.
Scarlet isn’t a bad book by any means, but I couldn’t help being disappointed. The concept is so fantastic, that I think my expectations were just too high.
And here’s my favorite moment from the BBC’s Robin Hood. Go to 2:46 for the cheesiest moment in television history.
And this is for Princess Consuela. Go to minute 4:00 to see the shiniest suit of armor ever.