Series: Scarlet, #1
Released: February 14th, 2012
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Rating: 4 stars
Word Rating: I should have read this sooner.
Reviewed by: Ellis
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.
Scarlet is one of those books that come with a lot of hype. It is also one of those books I was only mildly interested in. Whenever I saw someone gushing about it, I adopted an "eh, we'll see, maybe one day" attitude. That person? Don't listen to her. She is wrong. Luckily, Meg (Cuddlebuggery) realised just how wrong the way I was living my life was and sent me a copy. I'm always in for a Red Riding Hood retelling, so I moved it up on the TBR pile. Then I read the blurb, because I'm always prepared with things like this, and discovered it was actually a Robin Hood retelling. Even better.
You see, as a kid, I used to read these "kiddie translations" of classics such as Ivanhoe, The Three Musketeers, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and, of course, Robin Hood. Behold my copy:
Meet Robin Hood and Will Scarlet. As you can see, they are both of the male variety. You know what A.C. Gaughen said to that? Let me quote from the acknowledgements: "Is it possible that Will Scarlet might have been a girl? Absolutely." You know what I say to that? "We need more people like you, Miss Gaughen. We absolutely do." Like her, I refuse to believe that badass medieval girls are some kind of anachronism. They have always been there, they will always be there, and in no way nor universe is that a bad thing. The more, the merrier! (Get it? Merry Men? Anyway.)
Contrary to the kiddie cover, this Scarlet is not all smiles and high on life. She is grumpy. She is mean. She doesn't let anybody get close. She is hilarious, but that's more a side effect of her bluntness and her refusal to adapt to any norms and expectations. She helps Rob's gang feed and protect the people from Nottingham, but she makes it abundantly clear that she is not part of his group. She can walk away whenever she wants and she won't look back. She is that tough girl who gets shit done without making too much of a fuss. I loved every minute of it.
Until you realise that, like any good character, there is more to her. It is clear that Scarlet is much more attached to the people around her than she cares to admit. Grumpy and mean is what she shows, in hopes that she won't have to feel the rest. In her scheme to not get emotionally involved, she often hurts people without meaning to. She runs from her problems and cries. She feels like she can't do anything right. The world may know her as Will Scarlet, the handsome lad who will risk his life to save the people of Nottingham, but in reality she is an emotional mess who struggles with her past and stays away from people because she thinks she will only bring them pain.
It sounds like a whole lot of angst, but Gaughen manages to convey all this without making Scarlet's narrative frustrating to read. Maybe it's because of the dialect, which took some getting used to in the beginning, but which also added an extra layer of humour to the story. Maybe it was the fact that while Scarlet's struggles certainly do take up the focus of the novel, they never overshadow the action or the other characters. She might be reluctant about becoming part of the gang, but Much, Rob and John see her as one of their own and treat her as their equal. Much, especially, is integral to Scarlet getting more confident in herself.
It might also be because of the romance. See, I'm trying to act all cool and collected about this, but the romance caused me to repeatedly step away from the book and yell at people because I had thoughts and feelings that I needed to express. This is a good thing. There is a love triangle between John, Scarlet and Rob, but John is irrelevant. I guess it's admirable that of the two, he is much more straightforward with his feelings, but John is irrelevant. Scarlet wants Rob, even though she doesn't think she deserves him, so clearly John is irrelevant.
For all his irrelevancy, however, I have fewer issues with John than I do with Rob. Make no mistake. Scarlet and Rob? I ship it. The accidental touching and the one-on-one talks had me making weird sounds of excitement. My only complaint is that I wanted more of that. A lot more. The problem with Rob, though, is his stupid honour code. He "treats Scarlet like a lady", which means he keeps his distance. In turn, it gives her the feeling that he isn't interested and that she shouldn't be surprised because she clearly doesn't deserve them. These two clearly have issues, but I have faith in them. They can work it out. Preferably with their mouths.
That being said, I did feel like there was too much focus on the romance at times. I would have loved it had there been more attention on robbing rich people and how exactly you go about that. You know, for science. I also wondered where the rest of the gang was. Rob, John, Scarlet and Much are the core of this crew, but there are others. They are briefly mentioned in the beginning, but it always seems to be just the four of them. That is awfully convenient considering they won't have to worry about revealing Scarlet's identity. Shhh, these are minor issues. The fact remains that this is one excellent book. You should learn from my mistakes and start it immediately.