Sunday, June 24, 2012

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Rating: ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Local Library
Read: May 27, 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. 

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*** NOTE: This review contains spoilers. Please take heed and proceed at your own risk. 

To sum up, Gaughen’s Scarlet is decent enough for those who aren’t particularly familiar with the Robin Hood story or have a distinct preference for female leads, but I think a significant number of readers will be disappointed with the liberties taken by the author and/or put off by the predictability of the piece (especially apparent to those who have seen the BBC series).

I had a lot of problems with this book, but one that stands out is how easy it is to guess the plot twist prior to the big reveal. I had this one figured out by the end of chapter five and found I didn’t garner much satisfaction from the rest of the story. I hate admitting, it but I only finished the book so I could write the review. 

Unfortunately the more I read, the more annoyed I became. I never warmed to Scarlet, but I absolutely despised how Gaughen chose to fold the young thief into the well-known legend. Scarlet seems to be the only member of the band with any initiative, she is the only one with any real aptitude for theft and strategy, and she is the only one who can remain level headed when things get complicated. Excuse my language but what the hell do the boys need Robin for? I can’t express how upset I was by this treatment of the classic story. Scarlet, regardless of gender, is a supporting role. Robin is the hero. Period. Obviously I find the idea of different points of view interesting or I wouldn’t have bothered picking up the book, but there is a line and Gaughen crossed it by repeatedly allowing her leading lady to overshadow Robin in his own story. This isn’t a fresh take on an old tale; it is a straight up rewrite. 

Since I’m at it, I couldn’t stand the idea of a twenty one year old Robin. As a reader I’ve always pictured him as a seasoned adult. I feel regardless of the station to which he was born, a man only a few years out of his teens doesn’t have enough life experience or maturity to inspire anyone to take on the injustice of England under Prince John. One could argue that Robin began fighting for the crown at age fifteen and was thus forced to grow up faster, but personally I’m more inclined to believe a young man with such a background would be struggling with what we know today as PTSD well into his twenties. 

The issues don’t end with characterization. I am dismayed to report that here again we see that lovely staple of young adult lit, that hallmark of the unimaginative, that characteristic which so many of us loath beyond words – the love triangle. I refuse to rant; I’ve mounted this particular soapbox on more than one occasion and don’t have the inclination to do so again. All the same, I think the words mundane, trite, corny, banal, boring, and downright dull adequately illustrate my feelings on the subject. 

Now let’s talk vernacular. Gaughen goes to a great deal of trouble to give Scarlet a distinctive manner of speech throughout the story, so much so that some readers have even complained over the result. Personally, I didn’t mind, but considering the obvious amount of effort put forth in this department, I have a real problem with words that are not appropriate for a story that takes place in approximately 1196. For example, two handed broadswords did exist at this point in time, but the earliest known use of the word ‘claymore’ is from 1527. Similarly the word ‘gunpowder’ was not in use until the 1400s. I know I sound nitpicky, but really, it is not unlike going to the Renaissance Fair and seeing an individual dressed as Queen Elizabeth sporting a pair of Nike tennis shoes. Go all the way or not at all; this bridging the gap stuff doesn’t work. 

One last minor complaint: I despise the final line of the cover blurb. There are certain constants in the Robin Hood tale but there are also aspects that are unique to particular tellings. One such characteristic is the concept of one worth dying for. Early in the 1991 film adaptation, Kevin Costner’s Robin asks Morgan Freeman’s Azeem “was [Jasmina] worth it?” Azeem’s response “worth dying for” is echoed in the final scenes when their roles are reversed and Azeem asks the same question of Robin in reference to Lady Marian. The line was so intrinsic to the love story that Bryan Adams included it in the lyrics of the movie’s theme song ‘Everything I Do.’ Though Gaughen uses the phrase only twice within the text, three times if you include the blurb, I couldn’t help cringing over the fact that it appeared at all. 

I’ve issued higher ratings to books with construction issues in the past and I’ve even been known to overlook historic inaccuracies if a story is particularly engaging but I couldn’t bring myself to make exception for Scarlet. I wanted to like this book, but in the end I took little enjoyment from the piece. Two stars, not for me.

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No one really knows 'bout me. I'm Rob's secret, I'm his informant, I'm his shadow in dark places. No one ever takes me for more than a knockabout lad, a whip of a boy. They never really see. 
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2 comments:

Bookish Medievalist said...

You write some great reviews here, but I'm not sure if I can fully agree with some of the sentiments expressed here. In the Medieval period it was not uncommon for boys from the mid to late teens.
Henry V was on the battlefield at 16 as Price of Wales for instance. That was how things were done in a different period with different vales and attitudes to our own

The Flashlight Reader said...

You make a great point and yes, it was how things were done. Still doesn't sit well with me here though, agree to disagree on this one I guess. :)