First impressions: I have to confess up front that I almost put this book down after the first few pages. I found Scarlet's speech patterns to be jarringly irritating (she uses "were" instead of "was," as in "I were truly bothered by the way she kept saying 'were.'").
Lasting impressions: Dialect choices aside, this is a thrilling adventure about life in Robin Hood's gang from the perspective of a girl who can't see past her own perceived failings to recognize the strength she carries within herself.
Conflicting impressions: See first impressions, above. Eventually I got over it, and I'm so glad I stuck with it, but it's never a good thing when a character's voice is initially so off-putting.
Overall impressions: It's probably not my best idea to write this review immediately after finishing this (amazing, stupendous, terrific) book, because all I want to do is heap (amazing, stupendous, terrific) accolades upon it and call it a night.
Despite all of my grumblings about Scarlet's dialect, she wormed her way into my heart. While approaching a particularly poignant revelation about three-quarters of the way through the book, I reached my train stop on my way to work and got disturbingly grumpy about having to stop reading for THREE WHOLE HOURS until lunch. Yet when I got home with merely fifteen percent of the book left to read, I savored it because I couldn't bear for this to be the end of my journey with Scar and Rob.
I'm generally hit-or-miss with retellings, but this one knocked it out of the park. Perhaps my fond memories of Kevin Costner heaving that glorious mullet through a Bryan-Adams-soundtracked Sherwood Forest had something to do with my excitement for a new Robin Hood tale. (Don't act like you didn't see - and love - that movie.) Maybe I'm just a sucker for do-gooder redemption stories with tough, knife-wielding heroines. Whatever the case may be, it's safe to say that this one is going on the Special Shelf.
Scarlet, a girl on the run from a secretive and damaged past, has taken up with Robin Hood and operates among the townfolk as Will Scarlet to keep her identity as a girl under wraps. Robin, John Little, and Much are all aware that she's a girl, and although this fact keeps her as somewhat of an outsider among their band, Scarlet can hold her own in a fight. She has a hard time fully trusting her brothers for reasons not fully understood until they are painfully and slowly (in a good way) extricated throughout the narrative.
Things start to get overly complicated for Scar when the thief taker Gisbourne shows up in Nottingham. She's been on the run from him, but won't tell Robin why. Between the visible fear the usually unflappable Scarlet exhibits around Gisbourne, and the hints of a growing attraction between Scarlet and John, Robin starts to worry that Scarlet is endangering their band. Scarlet is all too aware that things are spiraling out of control, but as the Sheriff ratchets up the violence against innocent townspeople, she can't help but try to save them to put right what she feels has been a lifetime of wrongs she has committed. Fighting her past as well as her suppressed feelings for Robin, she is losing her grip on her destiny she has tried so hard to control, and it may be too late for her to give everyone their happy ending.
The romance and internal conflicts are expertly handled, and though this is a familiar tale, there are plenty of twists and surprises to keep you guessing. Scarlet is a lovable, heart-breaking girl who absolutely enthralled me, and the men vying for her attention are equally engrossing. You River of Time series Luca fans will swoon over John Little, whose charming personality forgives his skirt-chasing ways. And what can I say about Robin Hood? He's dashing, brilliant, and has a heart of gold. He wants to take all of the pain in the world upon himself to protect those around him. What's not to love?
You must read this (amazing, stupendous, terrific) book. Right now. If you read one book this year, let it be this one. And in case I'm not being clear, I'm telling you that this is a really good read. Do you see what happens when I review (amazing, stupendous, terrific) books right after finishing them and just before bed? I'm reduced to spewing gobs of praise in every imaginable form and hoping that some part of it seeps through your eyeballs and into your synapses that then march you into your bookstore to pick up a copy.
If it worked, be sure to let me know.
Rating: 5/5 stars