Sep 4, 2015

Outlaw by Angus Donald

When young Alan Dale barely escapes from the Sheriff of Nottingham's men after being caught stealing (and almost loses his hand as punishment!), his mother takes him to the Lord of the Wood for Sanctuary, to Robin Hood. Robin takes him in and Alan's life is forever changed. Serving a violent man, in a violent period of history, Alan will learn to follow Robin's rules and fight to survive.

This is the first volume of The Outlaw Chronicles, which paint Robin Hood in different light from that which we are used to (more of a violent mafioso-style figure who's out for his own benefit, than noble thief who steals from the rich to give to the poor, defending his King Richard's throne against the rapacious grasp of the "evil" Prince John). In it we are introduced to Robin Hood, Lord of Sherwood, a ruthless leader of violent men. Men who are (mostly) fiercely loyal to him (and who have all witnessed the price of betrayal). Robin rules the wood as a Lord his own domain, with his army, his trusted retainers (his brother watching his books), his lady love (Mary Anne), his pupils (Alan among others), as well as the families of all these men hiding out in Sherwood under Robin's protection. It's a violent story of loyalty and treachery, with quite a few surprise twists in several spots!

And it's not all in the greenwood. We also get to see some of Nottingham, as well as Queen Eleanor's court (this takes place towards the end of King Henry II's reign, and there is a mention of the "anarchy" of several years before referring to the period of lawlessness and bloody battles between King Stephen and the Empress Maude).

The story is narrated by a much older Alan Dale, who in his old age is writing down his memories of his time with Robin. Angus Donald does a very good job at bringing this period of history to life (although the dialogue might need a bit of work), and it definitely feels like a more "real" Robin Hood than our usual adventure tales. Kind of like Bernard Cornwell's King Arthur. Highly recommendable read if you like Robin Hood or Historical Fiction!

*sigh* I really need to get my act together and write my posts as soon as I finish the book/movie/episode in question! I had so many ideas when I finished this book, but as I was traveling I couldn't just "sit down to write" (although I did jot down a few notes on my phone). And now, several months later... this isn't as good as I'd hoped! I promise to do better with the next books in the series! ;o)

Straight from Sherwood (with a twist)

  • Robin Hood a.k.a. Robert Odo here
  • Locksley is Marie-Anne's name (Robin will be Earl of Lockley after their marriage it is assumed)
  • Alan Dale and singing -> explained here as his father was a very talented troubadour, and Robin fosters Alan's inherited talent by providing him with a teacher and an opportunity to improve (so he can ultimately travel around as a troubadour singing Robin's praises and being his spy)
  • Friar Tuck! Explanation as to how this friar can be such a good bowman (and member of Robin's forces)? He was originally a Welsh bowman before taking orders!
  • Will Scarlet -> name comes from his red head!
  • "Little" John is a big man
  • Sheriff of Nottingham, Sir Ralph Murdac. Ever Robin's enemy.
  • Guy of Gisbourn gets an interesting origin story, which makes him more Alan's particular enemy that Robin's!
  • Sir Richard of the Lea, a noble knight whom Robin helps. Here he's a Templar knight.
Scenes inspired by the traditional stories:
  • Robin's tendencies to wear disguises to get things done is reflected here:
"Robin had a natural talent for play-acting, and clearly he had enjoyed the role of drunken boor to an almost indecent extent. He had roared for more ale, spilled it, apologized to the mark, mopped him and cursed himself with huge enthusiasm."
  • Robin meets Tuck at a river crossing and fun ensues. 
  • Quarterstaff bout between Robin and "Little" John ending up with Robin in the water, except here John was Robin's father's master-at-arms and responsible for training Robin, and started him on the quarterstaff, with practices on the castle drawbridge and one of them ending up in the moat every time (mostly Robin).
  • Rescuing Marie-Anne from Nottingham!
Historical period: 
  • Since King Richard's reign was so short, it makes sense to start Robin's tale at the end of Henry II's reign, to give him time to grow his reputation so he would be a well-known figure by the time Richard ascends to the throne.
  • Historical figures: Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, King Richard, Prince John...

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