Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Walker Children’s Books, 2012
Many readers know the tale of Robin Hood, but they will be swept away by this new version full of action, secrets, and romance.
Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.
It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.
Everyone knows the gist of the tale of Robin Hood. He and his Merry Men robbed the rich to feed the poor, during the time when King Richard was off fighting in the crusades and the Sheriff of Nottingham was taxing the people to the point of death. One of those famous Merry Men is Will Scarlet, Robin’s knife-throwing sidekick. But what if Will Scarlet were actually just Scarlet? A knife-throwing girl? Well, then, you get Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen, a book I really wanted to love and just … didn’t.
Let me preface this review by first saying that I LOVE retellings, and this one sounded so unique that I knew I had to read it. Scarlet has a backstory – she’s hiding her past, pretending to be a boy, and it somehow ties together with Guy of Gisbourne, a thief taker that she had some sort of run-in with in the past. What I didn’t know was that this book has a rather unlikeable main character and a love triangle, which I hate. And this love triangle goes from the first pages until the end of the book, with no relief. Truly it was the love triangle that accounts for much of this rating; it annoyed me to unknown depths.
And then you have Scarlet, who suffers from a pretty major martyr complex. She is also grumpy, uncouth, and irritating in equal measures. My biggest problem with her, though, was her dialogue – her constant use of “were” instead of “was” – which, considering this book is told from her first-person pov, got really grating really quickly. I had a really hard time getting into her narrative because her manner of speaking just kept throwing me out of what was going on. I also have a problem with a character who punishes herself for her perceived faults, particularly when others are relying on her. Again, see above re: the martyr complex.
As for the love triangle, here is the gist: Scarlet pretends she doesn’t have feelings for Robin – “It weren’t like I wanted him. Or that I could have him, which were the same thing, right?” – and basically leads John on. John clearly likes her (and so does Robin, but Scarlet is too stupid to see this for herself in true YA fashion), and instead of confronting how she feels about Robin, she just goes along with John’s feelings for her. At one point, Robin actually says to her, “Figure this out, Scarlet. Figure if you’re with John or not, because while you toy with him, you’re toying with my band, and that means you’re toying with the people of Nottinghamshire … [and] you’re toying with me, too.” (pg. 171) But Scarlet doesn’t figure it out, not until the end of the book, and it seriously just got to be too much. The other problem is that both of the guys have issues of their own, particularly Robin, who has his own martyr complex going on. And I couldn’t help but LOL when Scarlet calls him out on it, particularly when she’s been doing the same exact thing the entire book. Pot, kettle, much?
There’s also a part where Scarlet gets into an argument with Robin over the fact that he treats noblewomen more courteously than he does “common women”. She “proves” this to herself (in her head) by saying that Robin isn’t courteous to her, which he totally is. Of course, the whole problem she has is simply because she likes him and is jealous when he bows over the hands of other women and speaks to them, which she doesn’t realize herself because, you know, stupid. There’s also the fact that she spends her time pretending to NOT be female, and she yells at them when the guys treat her as such. The whole thing is just such a contradiction that I just kind of threw my hands up. I have never met such a contrary character. Yes, she’s strong, and yes, she’s independent, and yes, she has a terrible past that she’s trying to pick the pieces up from, but she just seriously drove me nuts throughout much of this book.
Scarlet picked up toward the end when the truth about Scarlet’s past comes out, and it culminates in a Big Action Scene (per the usual), but by that point I was only reading to finish the book and not because I was enjoying it anymore than I had been. The truth is that the love triangle really ruined this story for me, which is unfortunate, because I think the whole idea behind the retelling had a lot of promise. But I have seen tons of glowing reviews for this book, so please don’t just take my word for it. It’s worth a library checkout to see if you can find more enjoyment in the things I didn’t like.