Outlaw by Angus Donald
(from the back of the book)
In the bloody underworld of 12th century England, one man reigns supreme. Robin Hood steals from the Church and gives protection to the poor – but at a price. And the price is silence. Informers are mutilated, traitors are murdered, and all must submit to Robin’s justice. As Alan Dale, a young thief running from the law, is thrown into this violent world, he finds that to survive he must exploit his quick reflexes, light fingers and unique musical talent. Robin, a mentor and father-figure to Alan, teaches him how to fight and more importantly, how to win. But in the England of Henry II, dangerous forces are allied against Robin and his men and it will take more than luck, more than skill, if they are to survive the savage assaults by the Norman rulers and the treachery and betrayal from some of their own.
This tale of Robin Hood is dark, bloody and completely unromantic. This is not a story about a hero for the oppressed. Robin rules the forest and the people with an iron fist and is quick to dispense bloody punishment for transgressions. It could be an interesting concept but I had trouble seeing it. Robin has the loyalty of the people and Alan, the narrator of the story, loves him as does Friar Tuck but I don’t know why. The indefinable qualities that made him a leader of men, someone who draws people to him didn’t really come through. Alan was sympathetic at first but the more I got to know him the less I liked him and the less I wanted to see him succeed. I wanted to be able to root for someone in this story and I couldn’t. I wanted to want to know these people, and I didn’t. There is a lot of action. Sword fights, recues, betrayals, battles and lots and lots of killing. I like that Tuck was conflicted about his loyalty to Robin and there were some things he would not take part in. It gave a sense that Robin’s actions were not being totally excused. Donald does a good job of bringing the setting to life and by putting the meaning of some of the words right in the text (i.e. ‘he swung a heavy falchion, a thick bladed sword’) manages to keep it authentic without sending you to the dictionary. It is a harsh, grim, sometimes even vulgar story so don’t go looking for fairy tales here. There is enough fighting and blood to satisfy any action lover but it is the action that drives and carries the story and not the characters. And though I liked to book well enough I would have liked to see a little more balance between the two.