Saturday, April 30, 2011

Musings: Outlaw

Outlaw
Angus Donald's Outlaw is his first novel in a new series about Robin Hood.  I realized when reading this book that I don't actually know much about Robin Hood at all.  I remember some characters' names from the BBC series, but that's pretty much it.  I also had this vague and completely baseless notion that Robin Hood and his Merry Men were similar to King Arthur and his Knights of the Round Table, but that is (unsurprisingly) quite false.  But both Robin Hood and King Arthur are men steeped in legend- all sorts of stories abound about them and their deeds even as people have trouble proving that either of them actually existed.

In Angus Donald's mind, Robin Hood is the head of what seems to be a medieval Mafia.  He offers villagers protection from the sheriff and dangerous criminals. In return for a fee.  That's how Alan Dale ended up with Robin's men.  He stole from a pie vendor and his mother asked Robin Hood to protect her son.  Robin agreed and Alan never looked back.  The story is told in a pretty typical flashback- the now old and lonely Alan Dale is relating his younger exploits on paper for the world to see.


I think I probably enjoyed this book more than I would have if I went into it knowing more of Robin Hood yore.  Maid Marian is here (Marie-Anne), as are Friar Tuck and Little John.  I recognized these characters' names, but I don't know enough about them to know if Donald painted a traditional portrait of them or took more artistic license.  The only depiction I saw as very different was that of Robin Hood himself- transformed from a man who stole from the rich to help support the poor to a man that took his share from everyone and was pretty ruthless about it.  (In fact, Alan Dale says, a few too many times for my liking, that he is surprised he acted in a naive/careless/reckless manner in front of someone so ruthless.)

But the biggest change in Robin Hood's character in this book is that he is some sort of pagan.  This was the hardest for me to deal with for many reasons.  Mostly because paganism was probably (very, very, very probably) eradicated from Britain at the time.  And also because Robin Hood is well known for going to fight in the Crusades (a fact explained at the end of this book, to be fair).  I am sorry to say that this massive change in character made the book difficult for me because I see no historical reason to believe that Robin Hood would not have been Christian.  I can see him having leanings towards a more nature-based religion, what with him living in the forest and all.  I guess.  But not flouting the Church in the cavalier and careless manner he did, at a time when everyone lived in fear of God, including his followers.

I did manage to overcome this disbelief eventually, mainly because in my mind, I started setting this book several centuries before it actually takes place.  This is probably completely ridiculous in my part and perhaps contributes further to me confusing Robin Hood's character and story with King Arthur's in my mind, but I had no other way to reconcile it in my head except to think of Robin Hood as one of the last holdouts against Christianity in the Western world.

This story is about Alan Dale, though, a character not nearly as interesting to me as Robin Hood, unfortunately.  In fact, none of the other characters in this book is as interesting as Robin.  They all seem much more flat, whereas Robin has a lot of potential to become a multi-faceted and thoroughly engrossing character.  I can't really think of one word that strongly describes Alan, whereas I can think of several that describe Robin.

I also admit that I COMPLETELY skimmed the last battle scene, which lasted, quite alarmingly to me, for about fifty pages.  I would prefer it to have been much shorter, but I am a late-20s female and probably not the target audience for battle scenes :-)

That said, I enjoyed this book and look forward to learning more about this mafiosa-style Robin.  I hope that the other characters get fleshed out more in the next books and take part in more of the action.  I can't say that I'm on the edge of my seat wondering what will happen next,  but it will be interesting to see how Robin acts in the next stage of his life- as an earl traveling far off on a holy crusade.

Note:  This review is based on an advanced reader's copy.  I received this book for free to review.

9 comments:

  1. Even though I am English and SHOULD know more about Robin Hood, I really don't have a lot of knowledge about him. However, on reading your review of this book, I think that might be a good way to approach the cover. I love the cover BTW!

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  2. I just read a book where the battlescene went on for almost 200 pages o_O So I understand why you skimmed a bit ;)

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  3. The thing about battle scenes for me is that I can't visualize them. I think military strategy is really interesting, actually, but my mind won't construct a picture that makes them make sense. Whenever I find a book (usually a kids' book) that will do diagrams of how battles worked -- like Thermopylae and those ones -- I find the battles much, much more interesting.

    It sounds like an interesting take on Robin Hood! Is he openly a pagan, or sort of secretly? I could buy him being a secret pagan, or certainly a syncretic pagan-Christian hybrid.

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  4. I am too infatuated with Robin Hood to ruin the image by reading a book in which he's not a paragon of virtue. I really liked the BBC series btw. :)

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  5. I know very little about Robin Hood, and the sound of a book that treats him and his merry little band of men as mafiosos really intrigues me. I probably wouldn't have been bothered by the fact that Robin Hood is portrayed as a pagan, because frankly, I don't know much about the precepts of religion around that time. It sounds like this book might be something that I would really enjoy, and like a lot of the books you review, it's going on my wish list. Very intriguing post, Aarti!

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  6. Robin Hood as a pagan? That's an odd choice. I think that would be too distracting a view for me to enjoy the book. It's practically impossible, Richard was fighting in the Crusades, for Pete's sake. It would be treason. You didn't really have a choice of religion in those days either, you were what your king said.

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  7. Now I'm picturing Robin Hood as the Godfather...and it's really not working for me. I want him to be a good guy!

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  8. I think casting him as pagan would make for interesting reading. I don't think I would have had a problem with it as long as I didn't think about it too hard. Now that you've got me thinking about it though...

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  9. This sounds intriguing. I've watched some of Robin Hood, the BBC series because I love Richard Armitage but that's not quite the way to learn about it (his shirtless scenes are wonderful though). Anyway I think I might check this one out, great review. Interesting about the pagan part, I wonder why they did that.

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