By Matthew Cody
Available now from Knopf BFYR (Penguin Random House)
Read my review of Super
I enjoy fairytales and folklore retold, so of course I'm a fan of the Robin Hood legend. Luckily, people retell it all the time. (See current Robin Hood books SCARLET and LADY THIEF by A.C. Gaughen.)
Matthew Cody's WILL IN SCARLET takes several liberties with the legend, to good effect. It doesn't just feel like a checking off of rote setpieces. The eponymous Will is actually William Shackley, a noble heir displaced by the machinations of Guy of Gisbourne. The first bit, about Will's backstory, goes on a bit too long. It is good for getting to know Will and his skills, however.
Things really get going when Will comes across the Merry Men - but not as we know them. Some dude named Gilbert is in charge and Rob is a drunkard in a tent claiming to be a good fighter. The revelation of Rob's abilities will surprise no one, but the hints of his backstory are curious. Something went horribly awry with this Rob and Maid Marian, to the point that her name is verboten. I can only hope that there's a sequel and that she appears.
It is a bit of a tradition for modern Robin Hood retellings to have a crossdresser in order to up the female quotient. In this case, Much the miller's son is actually the miller's daughter. She wants to help Will, but not at the cost of her own secrets or her life. Honestly, it's very reasonable of her. Meanwhile, Will is struggling with his desire for revenge.
WILL IN SCARLET is a retelling that doesn't tread to closely to the original, but still contains the important elements. There's plenty of contrast between the lives of the nobles and the peasants, which Will does note. His time with the bandits, unsheltered, just might allow him to implement real changes if he regains his rightful place. There is quite a bit of fighting and some death, which might push WILL IN SCARLET towards the upper end of middle grade. Much and Will's relationship hints at attraction, but there is no romance.
I felt that WILL IN SCARLET had a fairly open ending, and thus think it might not be a standalone. The Merry Men's first clash with the law comes to a conclusion, but I think there's plenty of meat for a sequel. I know I'll read it if there is one.