Author: AC Gaughen
Series: Scarlet #1
Release Date: 14 February 2012
Genres: Fiction, Historical, Retelling, Young Adult (YA)
Source: Borrowed from the Public Library
Goodreads | Amazon
Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.
Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.
It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.
As I’ve mentioned before, Robin Hood has never been one of my favorite stories. Not even my favorite author Robin McKinley could make me care about it, so when I tell you that this is one of two Robin Hood retellings I actually liked, that carries some weight. “Robin: Lady of Legend” by J.C. Argejaeger “fixed” Robin Hood for me, so going into “Scarlet,” I was pretty apprehensive.
The main conflict isn’t anything new: Nottingham is being taxed into starvation, Rob and the band steal from the rich, pawn the jewels, and give the money to the poor. It’s Scar’s characterization and the presence of Gisbourne that give this retelling its own identity.
Scarlet is a great character. Known around town as the boy “Will Scarlet,” she’s one of Rob’s three ”Merry Men.” Scar has all the skills of a master thief: stealth, the ability to climb anything, lethal with a knife. She is prickly, taciturn, and makes lots of veiled references to the Thief Hunter Gisbourne, who has some undisclosed vendetta against her and will kill her if she’s caught. Scar is very close-mouthed about her past, and Gaughen unravels it masterfully throughout the novel. As Scar opens up to Rob after years of hiding her past, you see them growing closer and you gain a better understanding of her standoffish personality.
Scar has got a complicated backstory, and as one would expect, it catches up to her. She works as a character because despite her hardships, she perseveres. Yes, she’s hiding for her problems, but she’s absolutely focused on doing good, helping the people of Nottingham. Unlike Rob, who is helping them because they’re “his people,” Scar has no connection to this place or it’s people except that she’s chosen to be there and cares about their hunger or imprisonment. She’s brave, even when she’s terrified, and rather than running and hiding until Gisbourne leaves, she continues her efforts with Rob and the Merry Men. They want her to lay low, and she doesn’t want to be protected or commanded. Scar is truly selfless in her devotion.
One aspect of Scar’s characterization really annoyed me. She usually doesn’t eat, giving her food to the townspeople, and abstains from food for so long that it makes her sick when she does eat something. This causes Rob and the guys to worry about her and fuss over her like mother hens. I’m not sure WHY Gaughen inserted this, and for me, it weakened my opinion of Scar. Not considerably, but some. Was it to make her seem noble? Because if so, I already had a good opinion of her noble character. Gaughen could have achieved the same end by having Scar worry about the hungry townspeople and eat less, but not stop eating altogether. It just positioned her as a damsel in distress, someone who, despite her brave acts and lethal skills, ultimately needs protecting by Rob and the men because she’s not wise enough to do something basic like eat.
Gaughen also made some interesting choices with the romance. Scar is obviously in love with Rob and the reader can tell by his steady glances and attention to her appetite that Rob is into Scar. Then John shows romantic interest, and because Scar is a thief, she doesn’t believe an earl like Rob could ever love her. It’s the whole “I’m not worthy” excuse. (She fails to consider that Rob is also a thief…) Rob gets angry with her partly because of his own repressed feelings and partly because she strings John along. John’s a player, and while I agree that Scar is special, half his interest is because she’s not falling at his feet like the tavern wenches. Gaughen wraps the romance up nicely, though, and I was pleased with her method.
The writing was pretty good, although there were a couple of instances where Gaughen uses phrases that don’t fit with the times, like “are you for real” and such. It was distracting but only happened two or three times, and overall, the dialogue and narrative made up for it.
The sequel, The Lady Thief, will be released February 11, 2014.