Review: The Heirs of Locksley by Carrie Vaughn

Review: The Heirs of Locksley by Carrie VaughnThe Heirs of Locksley (The Robin Hood Stories, #2) by Carrie Vaughn
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: historical fiction, retellings
Series: Robin Hood Stories #2
Pages: 128
Published by Tordotcom on August 4, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Carrie Vaughn follows up The Ghosts of Sherwood with the charming, fast-paced The Heirs of Locksley, continuing the story of Robin Hood's children.

"We will hold an archery contest. A simple affair, all in fun, on the tournament grounds. Tomorrow. We will see you there."

The latest civil war in England has come and gone, King John is dead, and the nobility of England gathers to see the coronation of his son, thirteen year old King Henry III.

The new king is at the center of political rivalries and power struggles, but John of Locksley―son of the legendary Robin Hood and Lady Marian―only sees a lonely boy in need of friends. John and his sisters succeed in befriending Henry, while also inadvertently uncovering a political plot, saving a man's life, and carrying out daring escapes.

All in a day's work for the Locksley children...

My Review:

I picked this up, admittedly rather early, because it combines two of my great reading loves, English history and fanfiction. And I really, truly was NOT expecting the second part of that equation.

I fell in love with English history at age 12, after seeing the movie Anne of a Thousand Days. I have no idea what drew me in so strongly. Certainly not any direct relationship to the history portrayed as I have zero English ancestry. Whether it was the pageantry, the politics or the power, I was absolutely hooked, leading to a life-long interest in British history, whether fictionalized or not.

Not that some of what grabbed me, like the Robin Hood and King Arthur, aren’t of dubious historical accuracy – at best.

But this particular novella duology – at least it’s a duology so far – does a terrific job of setting Robin Hood, Robin of Locksley, into a reasonably historical version of the time in which he was supposed to have lived, and skirts around the issues of exactly which, if any, of the tales about him might be true by making him a secondary character in these stories.

In these stories, Robin is no longer the outlaw of Sherwood. And he’s no longer a young man. Instead, he’s well into middle age, still powerful, still feared and hated and loved in equal measure, but also someone who recognizes that his time will inevitably draw to a close, sooner rather than later.

These stories focus on his children with Marian; his oldest daughter Mary, his son and heir John, and his slightly fey child Eleanor as they take their first steps into adulthood.

They also do a good job of giving bits of long-ago English history a face that makes them still feel relevant. The first book, The Ghosts of Sherwood, was a story about reckoning. About the nobles who favored King John still trying to eliminate Robin as a threat or a power, while the political maneuvering brought the negotiations surrounding the Magna Carta becomes personalized through his enemies attempt to kidnap his children – and his children manage to rescue themselves using the lessons their father and life on the edge of Sherwood have taught them.

In The Heirs of Locksley, the times have changed and the story has moved on a bit. It is 1220, and King John is dead. His 13-year-old son sits uneasily on the throne that he will occupy for the rest of his life. But Henry of Winchester, Henry III, is still a boy. A boy who never knew his father, but still stands in his shadow. The shadow of a man who seems to have pissed off everyone he ever knew.

Robin’s son John knows all about standing in a father’s long shadow. The two boys make a surprising common cause that leads them on an adventure that neither expected – to the consternation of all of the adults that surround them.

Escape Rating A-: I said at the beginning that this combined my loves of English history and fanfiction. The setting of these tales is between two of my favorite historical mystery series, both set in England and both occurring at times of great upheavals in history – as this series does.

I’m speaking of the Brother Cadfael series, by the late Ellis Peters, set in Shrewsbury, English between 1135 and 1145, at a time when the country was in the midst of a civil war. This series was also one of the first historical mystery series I have read, and the foundation of the popularity of the genre to this day.

The other series is the Owen Archer series, set in York in the late 1300s during the events that would eventually lead to yet another civil war, the Wars of the Roses. Both of these series, like these Robin Hood stories, do a fantastic job of drawing the reader directly into their time and place while still managing to comment on either our own, the immutability of human nature, or both.

(And now I’m missing Owen and will be moving the latest book in that series all the way up the virtually towering TBR pile!)

But I also referred to the Robin Hood stories as fanfiction – as the author does in the afterword to this book. It’s a concept that now that I’ve seen it, I can’t un-see it – and it resonates.

After all, the Robin Hood stories that we all know today weren’t written down until the late 1400s at the very earliest, three centuries after the adventures they portray. And even then, those written stories were merely printed versions of oral traditions that had arisen during the interim, sometime between Robin’s own time and the invention of the printing press.

As part of an oral tradition, the stories that were printed were the ones that were remembered, whether because they were the best stories, the most memorable ones, were just told by particularly charismatic storytellers – or all of the above. There’s no historical canon version, just a lot of stories that center around a larger-than-life character and his band of outlaws as they rebelled against an unjust authority.

It’s a “Fix-it” fic where the heroes fight wrongs and make things better in the end, as occurs when Richard the Lionhearted returns to his kingdom and the evil Sheriff of Nottingham is forced to leave Robin and his gang alone. The story conveniently ends before King Richard is killed and John takes back over, this time for good – or ill.

The Robin Hood Stories series are a kind of “next generation” fanfic where the author takes the beloved characters and tells readers what happened after the happy ever after, moving the story to the literal next generation, the earlier heroes’ children.

So she’s right. Not just that these stories feel like fanfiction but that the original Robin Hood stories were too. Complete with the “so many variations that the original canon is obscured” problem. In my review of the first book I noted that there’s a trend towards retellings going on right now. The world has gone mad and we’re all looking for the comfort of stories we know and love, in variations that may hold a few surprises but ultimately lead back to the tales that we already know.

And that’s what these Robin Hood Stories have been so far for me. A lovely comfort read with an interesting view of a historical period that I enjoy, an ultimately a visit with some old and very dear friends.

I hope there will be more.

Ebook Review Central, Samhain Publishing, March 2012

Holy Moly but this list was positively ginormous!

I’m not even referring to the number of titles. Since they added the Retro and Horror lines, Samhain has always published about 25 titles, give or take, so Samhain’s March list isn’t exceptional. It just felt long.

Why?

The reviews, of course. There were a couple of books that didn’t find an audience. And a couple of the retro titles that didn’t get reviewed this time around.

Samhain has had some terrific success getting prequel and mid-series novellas from fairly big-name authors where the rest of the series is in print from a more, shall we say, traditional publisher. Those books rack up huge reviews, and I would suspect, big sales.

Natural Evil, by Thea Harrison, is book 4.5 in her very popular Elder Races series. Book 4, the recent Oracle’s Moon, was published by Berkley, a division of “Big 6” publisher Penguin. The ebook novellas, #3.5 True Colors and #4.5 Natural Evil, were published by Samhain. These always get double-digit review numbers in the first month, and more trickle in every month after release. Natural Evil was no exception.

What’s different this month is that there were a lot of titles that went into double-digit review numbers. And they weren’t even all series books. Well, some were the start of a series, but they weren’t books that had the built-in anticipation that book 2 or 3 or 6 in a series has.

Seven books had 10 or more reviews.  This is excellent! But it does make it a lot harder to pick three to feature.

The book that slides into the third feature place for Samhain this time around is The Runaway Countess by Leigh LaValle. Reviewers fell in love with this Regency romance by debut author LaValle. This is the story of a Robin Hood heroine (not hero) and the Lord Lieutenant of Nottinghamshire (of course it’s in Nottingham) who saves her from the punishment she should suffer for being a thief. But she’s not as bad a thief as she’s accused of being. And he wants to do some really naughty things to our heroine, Mazie, who, like Robin Hood, is somewhat more than she appears to be on the surface. The reviewers didn’t just enjoy the story, they all expect great things from Ms. LaValle in the future.

Prowling into the second place in this week’s list is Hunter’s Prey by Moira Rogers. Fittingly enough, this is also book 2 in Rogers’ Bloodhounds series, after Wilder’s Mate and the mid-series teaser novella  Merrick’s Destiny (officially #1.5). The world of the Bloodhounds is an alternate history, steampunk post-Civil War U.S. in which vampires roam the Western night and their ghouls fulfill their orders during the day. The only creatures capable of fighting the vamps on their own terms are the Bloodhounds, formerly broken men turned into were-hellhounds by the mysterious Guild. Hunter’s Prey is the story of one such Bloodhound, and the woman brave enough to become his mate. With each book a little more of the overall tale of the Guild and everything else that is happening is being teased out as well. This series is awesome if you like steampunk, cowpunk (U.S. Western steampunk) vampires, shapeshifters or historic paranormal erotic romance.

The big book of the month for Samhain was Rocky Mountain Desire by Vivian Arend. This is number 3 in her Six Pack Ranch series, and whatever it is she did when she revised and expanded the Six Pack Ranch books from their original publication, it definitely works for readers and reviewers. The first two books in this series, Rocky Mountain Heat and Rocky Mountain Haven, were both featured titles on ERC, and there’s no reason to break the streak for book 3. Guilty Pleasures put Rocky Mountain Desire on their Crème de la Crème list because it’s good! The entire series is about a family of very handsome brothers in a small mountain town who, one after another, each find their perfect match. By book three, you have not just the romance, but family meddling and the fun of seeing how the couples from the first two stories are getting along. Done well, it’s a recipe for a terrific story. And Ms. Arend does it very well indeed.

Are you curious about which other titles had double-digit review numbers? Check out the complete Samhain list for March to see the answer. Wondering why the same book got a 5/5 from one reviewer and 3/5 from another? Read their reviews and see for yourself.

Ebook Review Central will be back next week with the four-in-one issue covering Amber Quill, Astraea Press, Liquid Silver and Riptide.

 

Scarlet

Robin Hood is one of the best-loved (and most often re-told) English legends, probably just behind the King Arthur stories in the number of times it’s been re-done and re-interpreted. And examined by everyone from Disney to Sean Connery. Cartoon to pathos.

Scarlet by A. G. Gaughen is a slightly different take on Robin Hood and his so-called “Merry Men”, who are certainly not merry in this re-telling of the tale.

In Gaughen’s version, “Will” Scarlet is known as “Scar” for the scar on her cheek. The change twists the tale. Scar is female, passing as male for her own safety. The story of how this young woman came to be hiding as a boy in the midst of a band of outlaws in Nottinghamshire makes something new out of an otherwise familiar legend.

We all know the Robin Hood story. Robin, Earl of Locksley returned from the Crusades after his father’s death. He should have inherited the Earldom. Instead he became an outlaw, a hero, and eventually a legend.

In this story, Robin is the outlaw Earl, still trying to protect his people. The difference is Scarlet, or Scar. All the rest of the familiar players in the drama are present and accounted for.

But Scar is a confused young woman. She hides her nature from the villagers in Nottinghamshire, but Robin and the band know that she is female. No one knows her real identity. And all of her deceptions begin to unravel when the Sheriff hires a thief-taker named Guy of Gisbourne, and Scar is so petrified that she freezes at the mention of his name.

Although the outlaw band do rob the rich to keep the villagers fed and help them pay their taxes, Scar truly is a thief. She loves bright shiny objects and steals for the challenge of it. But she never keeps what she steals. Scar sells everything she takes to help keep the village ahead of the taxman. She doesn’t even eat enough, because she knows someone else, anyone else, is more deserving than she.

Robin worries for her, and has from the day he met her in London when she tried to pick his pocket, thinking he was still a Lord. He sees that something terrible preys on her, but doesn’t know what it is until Gisbourne comes to wreck the delicate balance of their corner of the world.

Scar’s unknown past has become a danger to the outlaw band’s present. But her secrets reveal that Robin has never known anything of who she really was, or is. Once he finds out, can he live with the knowledge? No matter how high the cost?

Escape Rating B-: I have mixed reactions to this book. On the one hand, the concept of changing one of the characters from male to female was a very neat idea. That was terrific. On the other hand, I did figure out what Scarlet’s real identity was pretty early on, so if I was supposed to be fooled, I wasn’t.

The author I think was trying to write Scarlet’s character as using a sort of street vernacular to show that she was not a lady.  Even in Scarlet’s own thoughts, her use of language was not as formal as the “upper classes”. When it’s used for Scarlet’s thoughts as opposed to speech, it can be annoying to read. It is part of her secret, but I wonder if she would think that way. Speak, yes–think, I’m not so sure.

The Robin Hood legend has been re-told so often that it is hard to make it original. For this reader, this version wasn’t quite original enough. Scarlet conceals her female nature so effectively, she often succeeds in hiding it from herself. Where it would have been fascinating to have a young woman’s reactions to being a female in a band of men, most of the issue of Scarlet being female is handled by her suddenly becoming the object of jealousy between two of the band, and her being ill-equipped to cope with the problem.