Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fantasy, retellings
Series: Robin Hood Stories #1
Published by Tordotcom on June 9, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's Website, Publisher's Website, Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Kobo, Bookshop.org
Carrie Vaughn's The Ghosts of Sherwood revisits the Robin Hood legend with a story of the famed archer's children.
Everything about Father is stories.
Robin of Locksley and his one true love, Marian, are married. It has been close on two decades since they beat the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of a diverse band of talented friends. King John is now on the throne, and Robin has sworn fealty in order to further protect not just his family, but those of the lords and barons who look up to him – and, by extension, the villagers they protect.
There is a truce. An uneasy one, to be sure, but a truce, nonetheless.
But when the Locksley children are stolen away by persons unknown, Robin and Marian are going to need the help of everyone they’ve ever known, perhaps even the ghosts that are said to reside deep within Sherwood.
And the Locksley children, despite appearances to the contrary, are not without tricks of their own…
There’s a theory going around that people are re-reading and re-watching old favorites right now because they not only already know how they end, but that not-exactly-foreknowledge removes the tension of not knowing that everyone is going to be okay, because it’s already happened. So to speak.
There may also be a trend towards re-tellings as this uncertain season goes on. In a re-telling, we either already know how it’s going to go – and just want to see it told differently (By Force Alone by Lavie Tidhar looks like it’s going to be one of those) or because we already know the characters and want to see them in new adventures. We don’t have to get to know new people because we’re already familiar with the cast. The Other Bennet Sister by Janice Hadlow falls into this category and does VERY WELL with it.
The Ghosts of Sherwood is also this particular variety of re-telling. We ALL have at least a nodding acquaintance with Robin Hood’s story – if only from movies like Disney’s 1973 animated version, with a surprisingly sexy fox as Robin. (Which is being remade as a live-action hybrid, Yikes!) Meaning that we all know these characters to some extent, and we know the outline of the original story. Making it ripe for an extension.
Leading to The Ghosts of Sherwood, the first novella in The Robin Hood Stories. Which, at least from this opening, read like “Robin Hood, the Next Generation”. Which has its bit of irony, as Star Trek Next Gen also did a takeoff episode on Robin Hood, but more in the vein of Men in Tights. The episode is best known for Worf’s line, “I am NOT a merry man.” I digress, but this does go to show just how ubiquitous the legend of Robin Hood is.
As The Ghosts of Sherwood opens, Robin and Marion are on their way back from Runnymede, from the signing of the Magna Carta, setting this story in 1215. Robin, as the Earl of Locksley, was one of the barons who rebelled against King John’s rule – yet again in Robin’s case – and brought him to the bargaining table. There is still no love lost between Robin and King John, not even 20 years after the events that made their way into legend.
But Robin and Marion have changed – as has King John. Robin and Marion are married, and are part of the nobility of England, as fractured as it was at that time. The surviving members of Robin’s band of outlaws are part of their household at Locksley. And they have three children, Mary, John and Eleanor. Mary, the oldest, is 16, Eleanor is 8 and John is somewhere in between.
They are all as familiar with Sherwood as they are with their own house, but Mary seems to be the one who is most like her father, and most at home in the forest that is part of their home and heritage.
This story is, not exactly a passing of the torch, but rather a story that shows that the younger generation is willing to pick up that burden when the time comes. The children are kidnapped in the forest by, not outlaws but rather men loyal to the barons who opposed their father over the Magna Carta.
But the children have no certainty that their parents even know they are missing. It is up to them to use the cunning they inherited from both their parents, all the talents they can muster, as well as the legends that make Sherwood a place of menace to outsiders – so that they can rescue themselves.
Escape Rating A-: First, this was a lovely little story. It does a terrific job of portraying Robin and Marion’s post-outlaw life in a way that seems fitting. They are older, occasionally wiser, and often tireder than they were back in the day. And that’s the way it should be.
The details also do a terrific job of placing the story firmly within a historical, rather than mythical, legendary or fantasy context. If Robin existed, he would have been one of the nobles forcing King John to the bargaining table and the Magna Carta. It’s impossible to imagine that the enmity they felt for each other during King Richard the Lionhearted’s absence on Crusade, especially Robin’s armed rebellion, would ever have faded. As this story opens, John is nearly at the end of his reign, and Robin and Marion are no longer the young rebels they once were. (I’m saying the above in spite of the story being billed as historical fantasy. So far, at least, there are no fantastic elements – in spite of Mary referring to her mysterious protector as “The Ghost”. Maybe in a future installment?)
The focus of this story is on their children, particularly 16-year-old Mary, as she faces the decisions of oncoming adulthood.
But the story also deals with the politics of the country as one king’s reign is about to end and his heir is a child of nine. That forces are jockeying for power, and that Robin will have influence and could possibly be influenced is a part of his times.
So the story has large implications for the future of England, and the future stories of the series. At the same time, it’s very small and intimate. Three children, kidnapped, forced to rely on their wits and each other, figuring out how to get the better of their captors in spite of the odds. By banding together.
That the story works so well on both levels gives me high hopes for the future stories in the series. I’m very much looking forward to reading The Heirs of Locksley later this summer. Because I want more.