* * = fair
* * * = good
* * * * = very good
* * * * * = above and beyond
Rowan Hood: Outlaw Girl of Sherwood Forest
by Nancy Springer
Publisher: Philomel (June 25, 2001)
Length: 170 pages
This book and I have quite a bit of history. It is originally the book that made me want to find the "real" version of Robin Hood--so I could read this (apparent) sequel. When I returned to the library searches a few years later with the knowledge that there wasn't a "real" Robin Hood, I read this book. In fact, I read all of the books in Springer's series--5 all told. Yet, when I got to the end, much like The Hunger Games, I felt like I left them with a bad taste in my mouth. I then proceeded to decry them as an insult to the legend for several years.
I figured it was time for me to either reconcile myself with this book or at very least clear the mist that has come about my memory of it from the years since I've read it and figure out what exactly I do think about it.
I definitely did that.
I can see now why I was conflicted over this book. I had remembered Robin as something of a boyish idiot--but either I remembered completely wrong, or perhaps superimposed another version's over top of this (or, maybe, he becomes more childish as the series progresses? I'm not sure.). Robin, actually, is basically gold in this book. I found myself reading mostly for the passages with him. He's fun-loving, but kind, with his moments of seriousness. He's not completely unreachable, as he is in some versions, but very human. An admirable and daring human, but certainly not just a legend. He is very much Robin Hood done right--all of his dialogue rings true. My only problem was that there wasn't enough of him. (Remember my review of Hawksmaid? Apparently I don't like the girl-ed up versions of the legend that short-change Robin Hood in the process. Haha.)
The writing is also good. I could really see Robin, which was fun, and the forest, and the characters. The description is not overpowering, but it does its job well. I could understand Rowan's desire and heartache. The other characters--not really anyone from Robin's band, but the other young people Rowan runs into--also seem alive, and like they have their own stories to tell. (Which they do--the next three books all focus on her three friends. The fourth returns to her.)
After those praises, I run into issues. From the beginning, it becomes apparent that we're in a historical fantasy world. There's Nottingham, and Sherwood forest, and Barnesdale...but then there's the fantasy elements.
Now, I don't get historical fantasy. I can't ever figure out how I should treat in my head. It's like I'm being yanked between the real world and the fake world and end up in this in-between world that I can't take completely seriously or completely with a fantasy outlook.It doesn't help that there's various historical inaccuracies throughout the book--especially including the town of Nottingham. At least, it's inaccurate if it's supposed to be set in the general timeframe of Robin Hood tales--the 12th century--but it's impossible to tell where exactly she wants it set. Sure, legends are flexible and don't need to be historically accurate in everything. But I don't like half-fantasy half-historical worlds. They confuse me.
Really, though, it's the nature of the fantasy that bothers me. Springer has the woods inhabited by what she calls aelfe, some kind of immortal wood-spirits or elves--which Rowan (of course) shares blood with. Her mother is half aelfe, and can "sense" things like streams. It's very peculiar. (And adds immensely to the "where the heck does this story take place?" factor, considering characters still choose to swear by "Our Lady." I mean, HUH? x 10)
Also (spoilers whited out here--highlight to read if you want, don't if you don't), Rowan is Robin's daughter. Even though he never actually married or even saw her mother. Because her mother was, at the time, only the hearth in her fireplace or the earth under his head, as Rowan explains. Can you say creepy? I mean, this time I just couldn't help thinking: "poor Robin!" I loved him. He was awesome and sweet, and I don't see what Rowan's mother did to him nice or loving at all. I mean, really. It's gross. Then she didn't even tell him that he had a daughter! (Of course, how do you tell someone something like that?)
It's made more disturbing by the fact that Rowan's mother is kind of the idol of everyone in the book. That is, Rowan, Robin, and to some extent the aelfe. I can't see why she deserves this wondering respect of everyone involved. I am not a fan. "Should I read magic like this" aside, it's just plain weird and disturbing.
I will, once again, leave this book conflicted. I can see why I read them, why I continued to read them, and why I felt guilty reading them, all wrapped into one. On some sides, it's a good tribute to Robin--the way she characterizes him is marvelous. Then the thing she adds--a daughter--is quite interesting, and probably one of the things that made me want to give my Robin a family too.
But...I can't really get over the other things. Gah. I really can't decide about this book. It's annoying.
Overall Rating: * * 1/2
Plot: * * * (forgot to mention--not really an adventure story, and it has a boring, easily defeated villain, but it's more about Rowan's search and longing, and portrays that well)
Characters: * * * *
Golden Arrow: * *
"Fluently!": * * * *
Do I recommend it? Can't say. It's up to you. Robin is enjoyable, but underplayed compared to Rowan and the fantasy elements. I won't be buying this book.