Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
This book was phenomenal. Gaughen writes with such a distinctive voice that her readers will be immediately transported into Sherwood Forest with Robin’s band of thieves. The setting, the etiquette, and the world building behind this story are flawless.
Told from the perspective of Scarlet–otherwise known as Will Scarlet to keep her femininity a secret–we’re quickly pulled into the bloody conflict the sheriff is raging against Robin and his band.
Some aspects of the Robin Hood legend are different, like Sir Guy of Gisbourne taking on the role of a thief-taker hired to hunt down Robin Hood and his merry men. Except there’s more to his hunt than meets the eye, and the one in the most danger isn’t Robin but Scarlet.
In Scarlet we have a really dynamic heroine. She strong, while having weaknesses, and smart, but by no means a genius. She’s a brilliant thief and can climb like no one’s business. (As you can imagine, this is helpful not only in Sherwood, but when it comes to scaling, say, castle walls.) I love reading this story from her perspective, because she’s just insightful enough to make it a great read but she also misses cues–especially romantic ones–that help add characterization and tension to the plots.
The plot in this novel doesn’t revolve around Gisbourne, though he is really important. It’s our favorite Sheriff up to no good, kidnapping children and threatening to kill them if the parents are late with their taxes again. Except the taxes are so high people are starving to try and pay them, and rarely actually can. Robin, of course, is ready to jump into the fray and lie, cheat, and steal to get his people (for they’re rightfully his subjects) out from under the Sheriff’s thumb. Of course, they run into numerous problems along the way, but it’s the way these four solve their way around these obstacles shows not only her character’s motivations but adds layers to their group.
Of course there’s a love story filled with angst and secrets–my favorite kind–that threatens to pull the band apart. It’s amazing, and you find yourself alternately cheering and moaning at Scarlet throughout the narrative. There’s the obvious love interest to be found in Robin Hood, whose character is so conflicted and angst filled about his past you can’t help but love him. Except he’s the rightful Earl of Locksely and far out of Scarlet’s league. He has to marry a lady, after all, since he’ll regain his title when Richard finally returns from the Crusades.
And then there’s John Little, whose family’s devastating death has left him with some serious commitment issues. But while John seems ready to put those aside to try and be with Scarlet, she’s battling with a past of her own that’s left serious scars on her–both literally and figuratively.
While Scarlet tries to keep her gender a secret from the world, there are other secrets that threaten the stability of Robin’s band. As fractures in the band begin to grow, the tension in Nottingham and the surrounding villages is mounting too.
This is a book that will reveal something new every time you reread it. It’s almost difficult to believe that Gaughen is a debut author–her writing is flawless, the voice of her narrator distinct and interesting, and her story is filled with deeper emotions that some people are used to reading in a YA novel. On the other hand, I’ve never read a story like Scarlet and I can’t wait until I get the chance to visit Gaughen’s world of Robin Hood again.