Before I begin, I’ll say this: to avoid out-right spoilers, I’ll be somewhat vague on what the book contains, so perhaps I’ll be a little confusing at points. All the same, if you read the book after reading this, you’ll know more then the average person picking it up, and more then I knew. Also, I have not edited this (I know, you'd think I would've with how long it has taken). I may at some point, but here's the "rough draft" for the time being.
Here, again, is my rating system at the moment:
* = poor
* * = fair
* * * = good
* * * * = very good
* * * * * = above and beyond
Hawksmaid: The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian
by Kathryn Lasky
Published in 2010 by HarperCollins
Plot * * *
Hawksmaid’s weakest plot point is the fact that if you’d stopped me in the middle of the story (and if I’d had no prior Robin Hood experience), I wouldn’t quite be able to tell you what the main thing the characters wanted was. The last event that happens seems like it would’ve been more interesting if I’d seen the characters striving that direction for a quite a few more pages then I did. At the same time, I read most of the book in one day, so there was apparently something page-turning about it, especially in the second half.
Another weak point was a sort of “duex et machina” at the end. It was interesting, but it annoyed me, and was only enabled by the fantasy-like touches Lasky chose to add to the story. It almost seemed the whole fantasy subplot was added to get the author (or her characters) out of a fix at the end. Also, the person set up as the heroine does not really defeat the villain, though she does an admirable job of resisting the villain.
My main conclusion is that the plot is so that you won’t be tearing your hair out as you go along, and most readers won’t really analyze it: it works. I think it could work better, but it’s fair as it is.
Characters * *
There’s nothing particularly astonishing about the characters of this story, but they work all right. I think Matty’s (main character) focus on being “one of the boys” is a bit overplayed and annoying; the time spent on that would be better spent on getting to know her for herself better. However, her normal relationships with the boys, and especially the fact that she sees them grow up, feel natural and unforced.
Fynn, Lasky’s Robin Hood, was quite well done, but I think he was “undervalued.” Of course, this is a major RH fan speaking, but I think Matty’s part became a bit too large--the band didn’t seem to know what to do without her, yet they often would’ve been functioning without her...the author was as intent on her being one of the boys as she was, it seems, though it sometimes seemed she didn’t really do as much as she was credited for as the “master strategist” and things. I suppose I didn’t see her strategize enough to make me believe that.
I got off Fynn and onto Matty. I enjoyed Fynn. The reader first sees him at about thirteen or fourteen; at that point, he’s already stealing small things from the better off. This is done very well, not as “oh, she’s setting it up because he becomes Robin later...” but, “haha, he’s been doing this forever.” I bought Fynn.
His band is a tad nondescript, especially when we’re told that it grows but never see new characters. The boys that we see grow up are fun, but not very distinguishable.
Matty’s family--I’d call her family her father and the servant Meg--is also a bit nondescript. They feel superfluous, and it works better when her father is gone, though one has to wonder what Meg’s doing during all this running around Matty does between Sherwood and Nottingham and the like.
The villain of this story (IS she the villain?) is a bit strange. Of course, there are the typical baddies of Prince John, the Sheriff, a Bishop, etc. They, however, are fairly distant from the good guys. The one that emerges as the main one is the Abbess, and for the longest time I was cringing waiting for her to be revealed as supernatural or fantasy or something...she was really set up that way. She was also set up as more important then she seemed. Really, she was set against Matty and not Matty’s goals. I imagine she wouldn’t have cared a whit about King Richard if Matty hadn’t. Considering the very little contact they had until the end, this felt strange. It was more personal revenge then something truly meaningful. And, as I mentioned before, Matty didn’t really defeat her in the end. If her entire goal was to keep King Richard from being helped, then Matty WOULD have. But it wasn’t.
The Abbess, the band, and small other quirks is what brings this down to two stars. Fynn and Matty deserved a better supporting cast, I think. Personally, I’d rather have seen more of Fynn too, but I’m not sure if that would’ve been necessary to make the characters better so I’ll not say it would.
Golden Arrow * * *
This book did feel like a Robin Hood book. It had the normal elements, and some interesting and different takes that made it its own. This section is a bit harder to describe then others (either that, or I’m running out of steam), so I won’t go on to long. One thing I would’ve changed was the jarring change from “Fynn” and “Matty” to “Robin” and “Marian.” If it had happened sooner, instead of page 135, I wouldn’t have minded. As it was, though, they were Fynn and Matty. I liked Fynn and Matty. I didn’t need the traditional titles tacked on to understand that they were “Robin” and “Marian.” It felt weird, especially in dialogue, to suddenly switch over. (Also, there wasn’t much point in doing it for the “merry men” as they just became more indistinguishable.)
“Fluently!” * *
Unfortunately, this book was lacking in clever dialogue, but I think that came more from the real lack of dialogue in general: most of what was in there was clever, though not laugh-out-loud. The characters were clever enough for banter, but I didn’t get as much as I would’ve liked. A lot of the prose was narration.
Others * * *
A yet unmentioned point of the book is what gives it its title, Hawksmaid: Matty’s hawks. Her father teaches her falconry after her mother dies, and the hawks are very important to Matty. I really liked this quite original aspect of the story (I could’ve done without the little “hawk facts” before the chapters started--they felt out of place), though I think it was dragged down by another aspect--
Fantasy. Matty can “speak” hawk. I can buy that, decently well. It didn’t come up to often. The end (already mentioned), however, is strange and jolting, and feels very out of place. Like I said, the fantasy feels a little bit like it was added for fixing the end. It also is suddenly a lot more of fantasy then the little hints at the beginning.
Romance. No one’s surprised, eh? The romance feels generally natural...thought I think it begins a little too soon. It also isn’t enough to warrant the subtitle of “The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian”--it’s not focused enough on their relationship for that. At least, I don’t thinks so.
History. Most of the history in here feels fine, and matches up fairly well, though I can’t see the world terribly well. However, it pulled me out of the story even more at the end because I knew that Richard’s ransom wasn’t paid like the story said. That on top of everything else that made the ending awkward really sent me out of the book on a bad note.
Overall Thoughts and Rating I'm stuck...* * or * * *
Whew! You’ve made it to the end. (Or skipped to the end...I don’t blame you.) I really could have gone on in almost every section, but I began holding back. I’d say Hawksmaid is certainly good reading for the Robin Hood-inclined and the Robin Hood fanatics. On its own though? Not really. I don’t plan on reading it again. Of course, I’m an overly picky reader who’d rather read Hamlet a thousand times then a thousand new books. It wouldn’t surprise me if the average person would enjoy it, and it certainly has its good points.
So, how to the end the review? I guess I’ll go out with:
I wanted to see more of Fynn.
I copied the book image from amazon.com