Book Review: The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley
“Tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are.”
— The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley
The tale of Robin Hood, the thief who stole from the rich to give to the poor, has been told and re-told so many times that, surely, it can’t be made into anything new.
Surely there can’t be a fresh retelling of it.
Surely every Robin Hood tale has to be the same old plot with the same old characters.
As it turns out, though, Robin McKinley's The Outlaws of Sherwood seems bent on proving those assumptions wrong.
Robin Longbow is a sub-apprentice forester in Sherwood Forest, barely eking out a living-and barely able to control his temper when he is confronted by the taunts of the Chief Forester's favorite.
One careless shot, and he has killed the man.
From then on, Robin is on the run—but he is not alone. Joined first by his friends Much and Marian, then by more and more people who despise the Norman lords who tax them blind, Robin builds a community of Saxon outlaws deep in Sherwood who risk the gallows and the sword for the sake of justice and freedom.
Plot — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
Everyone knows the basic tale of Robin Hood—the man who stole from the rich to give to the poor in the depths of Sherwood Forest.
But, somehow, McKinley makes the story so much more than that—and her constant twists and turns and high stakes never failed to keep me reading.
The structure was sound and logical, and I thoroughly enjoyed watching her develop the plot points throughout the book.
Characters — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
McKinley’s Robin Hood and Marian and all the familiar cast of characters are full of depth and fears and insecurities—even the famous Robin.
No longer perfect at everything, Robin has his own story, motivation, and struggles—all making him so much more real than the versions that depict him as a master at everything and fearful of nothing.
Somehow, the author was able to keep Marian from being either a damsel in distress who couldn’t do anything or a I-don’t-need-anyone jerk that many modern female characters become, and I quite enjoyed reading her. Her position in society and her double life was fascinating, and though I never felt very much of an emotional connection to her, I did want the best for her.
The many new characters and twists on age-old personalities captured my imagination and made me very impressed with how McKinley balanced her ensemble of characters.
Pacing — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
I, personally, rarely was bored while reading, though I will admit that the first chapter, as well as some parts in the middle, weren’t the fastest-paced. Despite this, the pacing was good on the whole, and the story didn’t lag for too long.
Worldbuilding and Setting — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
One thing I appreciated about The Outlaws of Sherwood was that it realistically tackled the question of how a group of outlaws could practically live in the middle of Sherwood forest. Even down to how they would get shoes, McKinley’s book answered all these questions and didn’t assume that the outlaws would figure them out on their own.
Prose — ⭐️⭐️⭐️
The prose wasn’t my favorite, though it did carry the plot. There were a few instances of language that slipped over my head the first time I read it and startled me quite a bit when I read it at a later age.
McKinley tended to slip into telling rather than showing at irregular intervals, as well as jumping from one point of view to another, which, from the viewpoint of a writer, was rather irritating.
So, on the whole, the writing wasn’t brilliant, but it was acceptable.
Theme — ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️
To be perfectly honest, the theme was probably my least favorite of the sections. McKinley is not, as far as I know, a Christian, and there are a few scenes that had the potential to turn sour, though she never went that far. Then, too, there was the two or three bits of language.
I wouldn’t define The Outlaws of Sherwood as a bad book—though I wouldn’t hand it to anyone under the age of thirteen.
When I first discovered The Outlaws of Sherwood, I read it quite literally to tatters.
Which was a slight problem, since it didn’t belong to me.
I wouldn’t give it five stars across the board—but I would also recommend it. The way she twisted the familiar tale to make it fresh and new caught my attention from the start and didn’t fail in its conclusion.
What’s your favorite version of Robin Hood?