A historical retelling of the Robin Hood and Maid Marion story. I’m counting it as part of the Once Upon a Time read.
Publication year: 1992
Running time: 30 hours, 47 minutes including an excerpt from the next book Lady of Sherwood
Narrator: Roger Davis
This isn’t a fantasy book but rather historical romance. The book has lots and lots of point-of-view characters. One of them is Maid Marion FitzWalter, the heir to Ravenskeep lands near Nottingham. Her father was a crusader knight and died in the Holy Land about a year ago. Her mother and brother are also dead so she holds the lands, for now. But she wants to know how her father died. Robert of Loxley was also a knight on the Crusade. He was thought to be dead, too, but he returned somewhat unexpectedly, and his father gathers all the nobles near and far to celebrate his return. Marion goes to the party as well, to get any information about her father.
Robert doesn’t want a party. He has gone through horrible stuff and has even been a prisoner of the Turks for over a year. If Richard the Lionheart hadn’t paid for his release, he would still be a prisoner. He has deep scars, both mental and physical. But his father the Earl of Huntingdon has his own plans and the Earl also expects his son to carry them out, no matter what Robert might want. King Richard is now in prison in Germany and Robert wants to buy him out of there. But the Earl thinks that Prince John will be the next king and he wants to prevent that. Robert’s mother called him Robin and that’s a nickname that Robert eventually adapts as his name.
The main antagonists are the Earl of Huntingdon, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and Prince John. The sheriff, William the DeLacey, is a master manipulator. He’s unhappy with his station of life and wants to rise higher. All his children are women and, except for the youngest Eleanor, already married. He has some faint hope of marrying Eleanor to Huntingdon’s heir. He’s a widow but at the start of the book he isn’t yet looking for another wife, until he realizes that he might be able to get Marion’s lands and the girl herself. Then he’s fixated in his obsession. He’s also in league with Prince John. The Earl is another cold man. While the sheriff is prepared to manipulate everyone, the earl expects everyone to obey him because of his rank. He still treats Robert like a boy and doesn’t want to see how he has changed. As usual for Robin Hood tales, Prince John is portrayed as highly corrupt, gathering extravagant taxes from peasants and the Jewish people claiming that the money will be used to buy Richard free, but actually he keep the money for himself. He’s an arrogant and selfish man and at the start of the book he attempts to rape Marion. They are all POV characters.
Among the many POV characters is also Sir Guy of Guisbourne who has bought his knighthood and is the sheriff’s seneschal; essentially a glorified paper pusher. He wants to do great deeds but don’t have the skills or the courage for it. Marion treats him with kindness and he realizes that he could get her and her lands.
Adam Bell and his group are one of the outlaw groups in Sherwood. They rob pretty much everyone they meet and even blackmail people into their group.
Many familiar characters, such as Little John, Much the Miller’s son, and Will Scarlett are also POV characters.
Among the many male POV characters, there are also two women: Marion and Eleanor, the Sheriff’s youngest daughter. At least in the beginning, they are almost polar opposites of each other. Marion has been reared in Ravenskeep, surrounded by loving parents and familiar servants. She’s been alone a lot and she’s pretty innocent about her way the world works. She’s also a kind and gentle spirit, willing to believe the best of everyone. She pleads with the sheriff for the lives of peasants who have wronged him. But she’s also practical, the way that many women have to be in a world where they don’t have much say in their own lives. In contrast, Eleanor has lived her life in the Sheriff’s household watching her father, the master manipulator. He’s been quite cold towards both of his wives whom he married for practical and political reasons. Both are dead now and he has only daughters; Eleanor’s older sisters are all married respectably but not in higher stations, as the sheriff would have preferred. Eleanor is a plain girl (as is repeatedly told to her) but also independent and stubborn; she loves sex and chooses the men she sleeps with. However, she’s not very discreet and that costs her. A lot. She wants to be free to make her own choices at a time when women don’t have that luxury.
The characters are well developed and, as far as I know, typical of the era. There’s a deep gulf between the well-off and the poor, between men and women. The people are divided into the Norman overlords who disdain the conquered Saxons who in turn hate the Normans.
At times, the pace is very slow. Unfortunately, there’s also a lot of repetition; the same characters thinking the same things over and over. One scene which could have been an action scene was seen from at least five different POVs which managed to suck out any excitement from it and I was very impatient to get to know what happens next. Then again, the part of Robin Hood legend I’m most interested in is the part where they live in the forest and rob rich people. There was very little of that in this book so I ended up wondering when the “real” story would begin. This is not that story.
I’ve read the Cheysuli series from Roberson before and liked that more. Her writing style here is very flowery and descriptive but sometimes the descriptions just don’t make sense. For example: “Better to itch than to die for want of a scratch.” “The earl held himself very erect, superficially a younger man, until one looked farther and saw that he was old.”
The reader made various accents to the characters; the Normans have slight French accents and the Saxons English ones. They were just strong enough to spice the story but not too strong. In fact, the voice and accent he gave to Little John brought to my mind Clive Mantle (who was Little John in BBC’s Robin of Sherwood). His reading was clear and I enjoyed it a lot.
The book has a sequel, Lady of Sherwood, but it doesn’t end in a cliffhanger.