Review: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen


March 22, 2012 by Heidi

ARC book cover of Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Title: Scarlet [Amazon|GoodReads]
Author: A.C. Gaughen [Website|Twitter]
Standing: Stand alone novel.
Genre: Young Adult, Retelling, Historical
Published: February 14th, 2012 by Walker Childrens
Format: Hardcover; 292 pages.
Source: Borrowed from my local library.
Challenge: Debut Author Challenge

We do what we do because there’s something we can do about it. Things like ‘how long’ and ‘what if’ aren’t part of that. It’s about the hope, not the horror.

Scarlet, known to the people of Nottinghamshire as “Will”, but to her small band of outlaws as just Scarlet has spent the past two years as one of Robin Hood’s most trusted friends and partners in crime.  The band works tirelessly to make certain that the townspeople are fed, and have the money to pay the outrageously high taxes demanded by the sheriff.  They work the roads of Sherwood forest, trying hard to provide for the people that should have been under Robin’s care, but for some contrived treachery his father supposedly committed to crown and country.  When the sheriff hires a thief taker, Gisbourne, to capture and kill the Hood and his mates, Scarlet finds herself pushed into corners she’s been avoiding for years.  Suddenly, her trustworthiness and loyalty to the band is called into question as she strives to hide her past and stay a firm part of the band.  Each of these tasks becomes increasingly difficult as Gisbourne works to destroy them, and as Scarlet deals with the emotions of those around her.

So…let’s talk about this slight obsession I have with books that star girls masquerading as boys.  LOVE IT.  For some reason, this theme always grabs me.  I think one of the reasons for this is that it always guarantees you a strong woman balking against stereotypes–just the kind of girls I like to root for.  One of my favorite parts about Scarlet was the fact that her band knew she was a girl the whole time.  There wasn’t that whole ‘omg when is he going to realize she’s a woman and fall madly in love?’ pressure the whole book, because all of the characters that matter already know.  I mean, I love that moment (All Men of Genius, Leviathan), but it was refreshing to have a new play on this thing that I love so much.

I wasn’t sure going in how I was going to react to Scarlet.  I’d seen her described as ‘prickly’, ‘defensive’, and knew that a lot of people had a hard time bonding to her.  I am happy to say that while yes, these are completely accurate descriptions, I am in the camp of people who fell for and loved Scarlet immediately.  She’s quite moody, and withdraws into herself in an unhealthy way, but she’s also completely kick-butt with her knives, fiercely loyal, and completely dedicated to helping those in need.  Scarlet pushes her own emotions to the backburner so often, she herself doesn’t really even know how she feels about her bandmates John or Robin.  Or rather, she doesn’t let herself acknowledge her feelings.  Scarlet has so much hope for everyone else in her life, but so little for herself.  She’s so certain of her own eventual unhappy ending that she doesn’t dare risk the notion that she is worthy of anything more.  She’s entirely who she wants to be, and not at all who she’s supposed to be.  She’s faithful, dedicated, and willing to take the world’s troubles onto her back.  I found my heart wrenching for Scarlet for so much of this book, I adored her so.

And then there’s the men in her life–Robin Hood’s band of merry brothers.  In Scarlet, the band currently exists of only four ‘men’; Scarlet, Robin Hood, Little John, and Much.  A.C. Gaughen explained that she kept the band at this because Robin Hood was so young in her rendition.  Little John and Much were Robin’s “boys”, he’d grown up with them, and mysterious Scarlet was his dearest friend.  I liked Robin, he was haunted by his past in ways that let him understand Scarlet like no one else, and his need to protect the people of Nottinghamshire made him a true hero in my book.  He could be a bit of a prat, and was outright mean to Scarlet on occasion.  He’s so caught up in what he should feel and what those around him feel, that he fights against his own emotions in some rather annoying ways.  Also, I got really sick of hearing about his eyes.  Apparently, Robin Hood’s eyes are the most amazing things ever because I swear they’re mentioned in detail just about every time Scarlet looks at him.  

John provided a good counterpoint to Robin.  He obviously was crushing on Scarlet, and I love how completely oblivious she is to the whole thing.  I also wasn’t sure until the very end how John really felt about our heroine, if his feelings were genuine, or if he just thought them so.  He’s a good guy, but he certainly isn’t one to take a hint!  I actually liked John’s perseverance with Scarlet, even though we all knew he isn’t the man for her.  He’s confident in ways that Robin and Scarlet are not, but he also doesn’t really understand either of them with the depth that they are able to understand one another.  Honestly, I think my favorite of the men was Much, who we got to see the least of.  He was the most identifiable for the townspeople, and for me as well.  He was just a plain nice guy, who had everyone’s best interests at heart.  When Robin and John would get all mixed up in the head about Scarlet, Much was always there to step in and be a bastion of sanity and solace for her.

All in all, this wasn’t a completely character centered story, and that’s okay!  The action and adventure was worth the lack of character depth, and I’d also like to say that though not all of the characters complexities were highlighted, they were in no way shallow or lacking.  I loved that the plot was driven in an open and direct way.  From about 20 pages in we know the gist of what Scarlet is hiding from the band. But the devil is in the details, which get spread throughout the story like breadcrumbs, revealing more of her and her past to us slowly as time goes on.  I really appreciate this style; I sometimes get annoyed at the big ‘gasp’ moment of reveal that isn’t really a surprise at all.  That wasn’t how Scarlet was done!

Finally, I just have to say that I loved the way Scarlet ended (despite it lacking a certain scene…*ahem*!).  I love that it doesn’t just tie up everything all neatly; Scarlet has some loose ends, but in the best possible way.  This book is entirely about the power of hope, and the ending allows us to go on with the hope and knowledge that Scarlet, Robin, and the band will have many more adventures to come.  Fantastic!  I’m sure that Scarletwasn’t perfect, but it was pretty perfect for me, and I highly recommend it to you.

Likelihood that I’ll be back for more: Yes!  I loved this retelling so much, I want to give A.C. Gaughen a big ol’ hug.  She created a new and unique spin on a well-known and oft retold tale, that is totally legit!  I love the history and reasoning she included in her author’s note, and the fact that this book contained a primer for those of us wanting to read more Robin Hood?  LOVE IT.  Totally on board with this author.

Recommended for:  Fans of books like Tamora Pierce’s Allana, Scott Westerfeld’s Leviathan (Scarlet reminded me quite a bit of Deryn at times–I think it’s the way they talk!), and Lev A.C. Rosen’s All Men of Genius.  Again, we’re talking strong female protagonists who are willing to go against society to be themselves and follow their dreams.

Get a second opinion:
Book Harbinger
Paranormal Indulgence


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  1. Alyssa says:

    B&N should be thanking you, just bought this one after I read the review. I am obsessed with Robin Hood so I don't know what I have been waiting for..

  2. Yes! I am so glad that you mentioned Tamora Pierce's Alanna series. I read that series and fell in love with the idea of parading around as a guy. I will definitely be reading this book. 😀

  3. Heidi says:

    Lol, I'm glad that I helped you finally pull the trigger! What other Robin Hood retellings have you read? I haven't really read any, but I have a huge list going now of ones I want to read. Like Hood/Scarlet/Tuck, Lady of the Forest, and Outlaws of Sherwood.

  4. Heidi says:

    You should, I'm excited to hear what you think when you do! I'm sad that I haven't read Alanna yet, but it's pretty close to the top of 'series I MUST read' list. Hoping to start as soon as I tie up some of the series I'm currently in the middle of!

  5. Angiegirl says:

    Agreed. If not perfect, then perfect for me. I've loved women in disguise ever since poring over my children's Shakespeare anthology my dad gave me as a kid.

  6. Heidi says:

    Um…there's a reason Twelfth Night is my favorite!

  7. Alyssa says:

    I actually own Hood and tried to read it YEARS ago and couldn't get into it and other than that I haven't read ANY! But my undergraduate thesis was a 30 page paper on the cultural comparison of the original "Geste of Robyn Hode" and the movie Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves with Kevin Costner. I am a little obsessed.

  8. Alyssa says:

    Being a creeper here and just have to add that Shakespeare is the whole reason I LOVE the idea of women disguising themselves as men!! Also TWELFTH NIGHT IS MY FAVORITE TOO!!

  9. Heidi says:

    Hahaha, that is freaking awesome! Much more fun/interesting than my undergraduate thesis about calculating the energy costs of constructing the Temple of the Sun in Teotihuacan. :PIf you try Hood again, let me know. I'll probably read Outlaws of Sherwood and Lady of the Forest first. I read a lot of Jennifer Roberson growing up, and I'm not sure how her Robin Hood missed me.

  10. Heidi says:

    Of course it is! You really need to read All Men of Genius.

  11. Jasmine Rose says:

    Hm. You probably know that hist fic isn't my thing, but I think I could possibly get down with this one. I do love retellings and I've been hearing great things about Scarlet. You make it sound so good I think I'll have to go add it to my TBR. :]

  12. A. Knight says:

    I WISH I COULD COPY + PASTE THE ENTIRE THIRD PARAGRAPH AND PUT IT HERE. As well as those last few sentences, because you nailed most of my feelings on this one. I LOVE SCARLET, which you obviously know since you put up my review (<333), but it had everything I wanted and was looking for at the time. The characters are fabulous, the story and action, oh, I squealed and chatted about this one for days to anyone who would listen. I EVEN RESORTED TO BOOK BULLYING. I'm just so glad you loved and appreciated this book, that YOU GOT SCARLET. So many can't get past her 'prickliness' to see the truth about her character. She's the most amazing heroine.Again, LOVE that you loved this one, too :D— Asher

  13. Giselle says:

    Wow great review I definitely need to read this one SOON. Everyone is raving about it and I love the sounds of how different and creative it is. I've also been meaning to read Tamora Pierce's books for a while I have to get to those too! 😀

  14. Heidi says:

    You're right, it DOES make your day when someone says they add a book to their TBR because of you! 😛 I hope that you do read it and LOVE it Jasmine. This one is totally worth going out of your comfort zone for.

  15. Heidi says:

    Yay! I was so happy that you loved Scarlet as much as I did, Asher. She IS such a fantastic heroine, to her own detriment eve, and I absolutely loved her. I'm totally going to be a bibliovangelist for this book.

  16. Heidi says:

    Thanks, Giselle! You DO need to read both Scarlet and Tamora Pierce! I'm putting Alanna down as one of my top series to get to this year.

  17. YES! I love that women disguised as men trope too!I also love Robin Hood something fierce.And oh my godddd I need to hurry my butt up and buy Scarlet on my kindle like yesterday or borrow it from my library.

  18. Heidi says:

    You seriously do, April, you will LOVE Scarlet!

  19. […] (From Feiwel and Friends) I’ve already read and loved one book named Scarlet this year, but being as I adored Cinder, here’s hoping the title will go 2 for 2! […]

  20. […] Christopher Paul Curtis #5– The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth #4– Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen #3– A Face Like Glass by Frances Hardinge #2– Vessel by Sarah Beth Durst […]

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While the source for each book I review is posted within its review, please assume unless otherwise stated that books reviewed on Bunbury in the Stacks were received free from the author or publisher in exchange for an honest review.