Will Scarlet a girl? What? But from the first page in this engrossing story, the reader is back with Robin Hood, robbing the rich to give to the poor, fighting the Sheriff of Nottingham and Guy Guisburne, and somehow it could be true. A. C. Gaughen has taken the premise that Will Scarlet was a girl in hiding, disguised as a young man, hiding her past from the ‘boys’, using her skill with knives and as a thief to aid their work. The story of Robin Hood has been a rich mine for film-makers and storytellers in the recent past, with Kevin Costner’s film, and Stephen Lawhead’s trilogy, Hood, Scarlet and Tuck. So few facts are known about Robin of Locksley, that as with King Arthur, imagination can take hold, but then comes the difficulty of making it seem credible and this Gaughen has achieved.
From the moment Scarlet speaks the reader is with her in Tuck’s smokey tavern with her close knit band led by Rob, with whom she has a love hate relationship. John Little, burly and with a way with the girls, and Much who lost a hand to the Sheriff form the band with Scar. She has a way of disappearing into the crowds, stealing to give to the needy, and is very handy with knives. Although the ‘boys’ are aware Scar is a girl they know nothing of her background, but suffice to say (and not to spoil the ending) her real name is Marian and Guy of Guisburne has a reason to hate her.
Scarlet is credible from the first page, as are the other three main characters, moody, troubled Robin, who lost his inheritance to King John’s tricks; John who thinks Scarlet is his; and Much a more shadowy figure adding the voice of reason now and then. The plight of the villagers, hounded for their taxes, having their women and crops taken is real and heart-rending. Even when they betray Robin their reasons are clearly understood. The hand to mouth existence, the feeling of always being on the run, never safe but certain of what they have to do, this is a band to which one would wish to belong. A romantic view yes, tempered with violence at times, but one rich in the historical detail of food, dress and the general background. Most importantly the speech is right. No-one knows exactly how people of that time spoke, but somehow this interpretation feels right and adds to the credibility of the plot.
A couple of small points – the author refers to Nottinghamshire when perhaps Nottingham would have been more precise a term, and the cover is of such a beautiful girl that maybe a bit more of the male disguise Scarlet uses so effectively would have been appropriate. But these are niggles which should not take away from the fact that this is a very good story indeed.