In this retelling of the Robin Hood legend, the evil Sheriff of Nottingham is crushing the villages in his domain with heavy taxes and the threat of violence. In retaliation, Robin Hood and his small band of followers – Much the miller’s son, John whose nickname is “Little,” and Will Scarlet – steal from the rich and give to the poor, as the story goes. However, in this version of the legend, “Will” Scarlet is actually a girl who goes simply by Scarlet or Scar. She’s quick with a knife and good at getting out of tight situations, which makes her an ideal thief. However, when the Sheriff hires a thief-taker named Guy of Gisbourne who is notorious for his cruelty, the danger to Robin Hood and his friends grows even greater – especially because Scarlet has a secret involving Gisbourne that will endanger the lives of everyone she loves.
I’ve always liked the story of Robin Hood, though I’m not sure why; something about the notion of merrie England appeals to me, I guess. However, I’ve always steered clear of Robin Hood retellings, because in my mind nothing can possibly measure up to Robin McKinley’s phenomenal The Outlaws of Sherwood. That said, I actually enjoyed Scarlet quite a bit. Scar is an engaging narrator, despite having a strange dialect that initially got on my nerves. Although her secret isn’t too difficult to guess, the book builds to it nicely. I really enjoyed reading about her personal relationships with John and Robin Hood, although sometimes it did veer a little too much into teen angst territory. Still, I found the plot exciting and all the major characters vivid. While I still think The Outlaws of Sherwood is unsurpassable, Scarlet is also an entertaining and unique take on the Robin Hood tale.