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Robin McKinley – The Outlaws of Sherwood

April 20, 2009

42. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley (1988)

Length: 288 pages

Genre: Historical Fiction

Started: 16 April 2009
Finished: 18 April 2009

How long has it been on my TBR pile? Since 31 March 2008
Verdict? Probable keeper.

Who’s in da hood? It’s
Robin in da Hood! (Sorry.
I couldn’t resist.)

Summary: Robin Hood is one of those figures of legend who goes through endless iterations; each retelling emphasizing some aspects while downplaying or changing others. In McKinley’s version, Robin is a forester the king’s part of Sherwood Forest, and a Saxon. When he is forced to go into hiding after accidentally killing another man, his friends turn him into a rallying point for all of the Saxons who are tired of being under the thumb of their Norman rulers – including the Sherriff of Nottingham, whose ever-increasing rents are making banditry seem like an ever more attractive option to the local peasants and villagers – and more than few of the disillusioned young nobles. Robin’s not terribly comfortable as a leader, especially when the price on his head could be leading all of his friends and loved ones into terrible danger.

Review: I’ve only had middling success with McKinley’s novels in the past, so I approached this one with a little trepidation. Her writing style and I just don’t get along very well – to me it frequently comes off as ponderous and overblown, although I can see how others could see it as lending whatever she’s telling an air of gravitas. However, while I can’t say that the language worked for her retelling of the Robin Hood story, neither did it particularly work against it – there is a fair bit of dialogue and quite a lot of action to break up some of the more tedious descriptive passages that marked her other books. And if the dialogue is still somewhat stilted, well, let’s just write that off as historical flavor, shall we?

While I knew the basics of the Robin Hood story (robs from the rich, gives to the poor, yada yada), I knew it almost exclusively from movies – this was my first written retelling. I thought the grounding of the legend in a firm political background was very interesting, and fully believable. What I enjoyed the most about this book, however, was not the story of Robin himself, but the development of the secondary characters – particularly Little John and Will Scarlet. They’re all given plausible backstories, and worked into the main action in compellingly believable ways – enough so that I want to go seek out other retellings to see which parts are part of the legend, and which parts McKinley made up for this rendition of the classic story. 4 out of 5 stars.

Recommendation: The most agreeable of McKinley’s books that I’ve read; while the prose is still too dense for my tastes, the quick pace of the plot keeps things moving along nicely.

This Review on LibraryThing | This Book on LibraryThing | This Book on Amazon

Other Reviews: Have you reviewed this book? Leave a comment with the link and I’ll add it in.

First Line: A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tip as the arrow sped on its way.

Vocab: (see the whole list)

  • p. 38: “Marian came to the camp at least once a sennight.” – a week. (Oh, a seven-night. Duh.)
  • p. 76: ““Well, Beauty, Brown-eyes, Sweetheart, what have you caught here?” came a new voice. “A great hulking tatterdemalion like this and you have not treed him?”” – a person in tattered clothing; a shabby person.
  • p. 97: “Even Much’s sense of romance had little to do with young lovers too innocent to come in out of the rain; and Alan’s megrims had grated on Much as severely as on anyone.” – low spirits; the blues.
  • p. 116: ““Good,” said Robin. “I had feared that his friends would talk sense to him, and he would go the long way around; and we have need of every groat soon.”” – a silver coin of England, equal to four pennies, issued from 1279 to 1662.
  • p. 148: “Marian sat there, with her hands crossed gracefully in her lap, and her curly hair smoothed back under a riband; he could only see the top of her head, and the beautiful slope of her neck.” – a woven strip or band of fine material, as silk or rayon, varying in width and finished off at the edges, used for ornament, tying, etc.
15 Comments leave one →
  1. April 21, 2009 2:38 pm

    I was hesitant about this book – I’m seen some so-so reviews, and McKinley really seems to be hit or miss. But your review makes me think I’ll enjoy it.

  2. April 21, 2009 5:11 pm

    So, I think McKinley can do no wrong, but when I say it, I sort of mentally exclude Sunshine or Dragonhaven.

    You really should try The Blue Sword – one of her earliest, still one of her best.

  3. April 21, 2009 9:00 pm

    Hm, I’m on a bit of a Robin Hood kick lately and I’m looking for a good novel about him so I may have to see about picking this one up.

  4. April 22, 2009 10:27 pm

    Nymeth – I wonder if the people who are down on this book are the same ones who really love the McKinley books that I didn’t care for?

    Aerin – I’ve also had The Hero and the Crown recommended to me as one of her best – any thoughts?

    Ladytink – Ooh, what else Robin-Hood-y have you been reading?

  5. April 25, 2009 3:25 am

    I have a copy of this on my shelf (I found a newer softcover at a used bookstore a couple years ago), but I haven’t read the book since I was 13 (when I read a library copy). I don’t remember much about the book, but I do remember arguing with my dad about why I thought memorizing catechism stuff was a waste of time, and reading Oulaws of Sherwood while I was sentenced to an hour or two in my room for mouthing off. (Some punishment, eh? Dad had a football game on TV–where else would I have been, anyway?)

  6. April 25, 2009 3:28 am

    I think the only McKinley book I’ve found difficult to read was a picture book–The Stone Fey. I’d expected a children’s book, but it really wasn’t. If I’d known that in advance, I’m sure I would’ve liked it much better. Her oral story-telling style works for me. (But I seldom read her blog, even though I subscribe to the RSS feed–her style doesn’t work for me at all in her blog.)

  7. April 26, 2009 5:16 pm

    Jena – You read this when you were 13? I guess I never really thought of it as a young-adult book, although there’s certainly no reason why it couldn’t be… or why a 13-year-old couldn’t read adult books. Interesting.

  8. April 30, 2009 2:44 pm

    I have enjoyed all the Robin McKinley books I’ve read, so I don’t know why I haven’t picked up this one! Thanks for the review – I’ll add it to my list.

  9. April 30, 2009 3:24 pm

    Darla – I’m just on a roll today with respect to your list, aren’t I? ;-)

  10. May 3, 2009 2:08 pm

    As usual, darn you! :-)

  11. trapunto permalink
    May 5, 2009 3:54 pm

    Same problem with Robin McKinley! Though I keep going back to her in memory of reading her excellent first novel, Beauty, when I was thirteen–just like Jena when she read Outlaws. Definitely the sorts of books to harumph off to your room and lose yourself in. I think some of the problem with McKinley is that her ideal audience is tortured young tomboyish teenaged girls, and only a few of the things she’s written hold up for readers who have trouble accessing their inner tortured tomboy and have grown crotchety about things like dramatic pacing.

  12. May 8, 2009 11:24 pm

    Darla – Yeah, because you *never* add to my list! I’m only returning the favor!

    trapunto – Tomboyish? Rose Daughter? Really? (that was the one I had the worst luck with, and I was/am fairly tomboy-ish.

  13. trapunto permalink
    May 9, 2009 7:23 pm

    Nope, Beauty is a completely different novel. She wrote two novels based on the same fairy tale. I couldn’t stand Rose Daughter.

  14. May 11, 2009 11:30 am

    trapunto – Ah, okay. Rose Daughter gave me problems too, and really confused me as to why so many people were raving about McKinley’s work.


  1. The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley « Chachic's Book Nook

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