This is one I’d been wanting to read since it first came out, and just now got around to.
Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen. Walker and Co., 2012.
This extra-dark Robin Hood retelling features a cross-dressing Will Scarlet with a haunted past. Robin’s band is very small, consisting of just Robin, Little John, Much and Scarlet, while Tuck is a helpful barkeep rather than a friar. They are the only ones who know that Scarlet really is just Scarlet, not Will Scarlet – but not even Robin just calls her Scarlet for the scarlet ribbons she ties on her throwing knives. As always, trouble comes Robin Hood’s merry band increases their efforts to cover the costs of the sheriff’s raised taxes. In retaliation, the Sheriff brings in the famed thief hunter Guy of Gisborne, someone who will recognize Scar’s distinctive moonstone eyes. The sheriff in this version is evil enough that he’s ready to kill children to protest not being loved enough, and Gisborne is of course even worse.
Gaugen tells the story in Scarlet’s own decidedly lower-class voice, and adds a love triangle to the traditional story. Robin, of course, has his own piles of demons, and both he and Scarlet are unwilling to share their own pasts yet frustrated with the other for not trusting the other enough to tell the truth. They torture each other in many ways, both deliberately with words and accidentally, by valuing the other’s life more than their own. Meanwhile, Little John offers an uncomplicated affection that’s hard for the emotionally battered Scarlet to ignore. I noticed a few anachronisms – a poor couple bottle-feeding their infant was the one that stuck out most painfully (where would they get a bottle? what would they put in it? how would they pay?)– and I wasn’t sure that even their mutual scars excused the verbal abuse between Robin and Scarlet. On the whole, though, this is a darkly seductive version of the story, with lots of passion and violence but no sex, good for teens and up who like Robin Hood stories but want more active female characters. And now I want to go back and reread Robin McKinley’s Outlaws of Sherwood.