March 22, 2012 by Heidi
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.