It’s 1 am in the morning, and the noise is not that loud, but I thump my wall for good measure. I’m sure I look frightful, the wires of my retainers flashing, but, again, it’s 1 in the morning.
Outlaws of Sherwood, like Rowan Hood, has been sitting uneasily in the back of my mind for several months. It somehow in the early days ended up in my “top 5” list, but I’m not sure why--most of my memories of the book, though not as foul-tasting as Rowan, are not exactly bright either. I check out the book and let it sit and rot--er, rest--on my shelf for a couple of weeks, because I’m daunted by the thick paragraphs the book starts off with. Then Josiphine asks what my “professional opinion” might be, and I grudgingly pick it up.
I’m glad I did, because now I know both why I like it and why I don’t.
First, the good.
I had forgotten how funny McKinley can be. The narrative often has a dry, wry humor to it that can actually make me laugh out loud--as well as most of Much’s lines and several of Robin’s. The dialogue is often (though not always) scattered gold amidst the forest of prose-rich pages of this book.
Also, I do like the characters. Even Robin. I thought, thinking back on it, that I did not, because Robin is different. After having lived with a “different” Robin for well over two years, perhaps I’m a little more forgiving. Much is hilarious (as well as the things Robin threatens to do to him when he’s being hilarious--so misunderstood, that Much), and the other characters are pretty well-formed, even with stereotypes. I especially liked how she developed Little John.
In connection with that is the developed relationships. There’s such an ache to Robin’s and Marian’s relationship that you just wanted to jump into the book and shove them together. Marian loves Robin too much to stay away from him, and Robin loves her too much to let her stay comfortably. The climax of this was beautifully done. There are the other relationships of the band as well (and their overall relation to each other), and I like them. (Though Cecily and Little John can be uncomfortably sensual at times.)
Now, the other stuff.
Paragraphs. They are killing me. HELP! I don’t usually complain about lengthy non-talking prose (I’ve read LotR a dozen times, for crying out loud), but this is Robin Hood. Too much. Also, sometimes I couldn’t figure out some of the dialogue or why characters were saying what they were.
Two more minor points: up-staged Norman-Saxon drama. Yes, this is now a standing tradition of Robin Hood literature. Yes, it’s not quite accurate. And I don’t really mind it, usually. But it was a little in-your-face.
Historical accuracy. On some accounts, McKinley seems spot-on. In others, I did a little head-scratching. (One was the name “Nigel.” I have not checked, but it sounded very wrong to me.) However, as she said in her afterward that she was only striving to be “historically unembarrassing” I guess I’ll leave her off the hook on that.
AND NOW. I will sum up my other complaint in this:
Outlaws of Sherwood: The Practical Guide
There’s something in practicality that is fun. This is the first (and probably only) book I read where I realized those outlaws really did need somewhere to get their clothes and arrows from, and even “privy vaults” (though McKinley seems to have a strange fascination with the latter). This practicality influenced my own work a bit.
So, a little practicality isn’t bad. Neither really is the very practical Robin. But it begins to become something of a drag. Robin is SO practical, and protective, that I can’t see why exactly people are coming to his camps by droves. Isn’t it BORING? (Now, one could also say this about my Robin. And that would be right. However, on one hand, I don’t have droves. On the other, mine’s driven by passion, still, even if it’s not rash and bold like the average Robin Hood. If Robin has a deep-seated passion for anything, I can’t really see it. For heaven’s sake, it was his friends’ idea for him not to just sell himself to the Saracens.) Thank heaven for Much’s dose of humor and idealism to keep me sane.
Every strike of the outlaws--except Robin’s revenge on Guy of Gisbourne--is carefully calculated about helping their cause or raising their banner, and has none of the just-for-fun dash of normal books, except for something Marian does. In the aftermath, Friar Tuck says: “Tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are.” I really liked this line, except it seems a tad ironic in a book that doesn’t strike me as a tale in the way I think of the word...it’s more of: “here’s how it could’ve come about.”
This practicality of the Robin and of the author finally spills over and destroys the end. Spoilers...Robin’s band lasts less than a year. He sends a lot of them away because he thinks they’re going to be attacked. They are attacked. They’re nearly butchered, Sir Richard comes to aid them, takes them to his castle, and then the King shows up. He purrs and prowls around the room (I found this amusing) and ends up assigning the whole lot of them to come to the Holy Land with him. I MEAN WHAT?
(I am not a fan of the historical King Richard anyway, but...still. Seriously?)
The last half of the book reads considerably quicker than the first, but it’s a downhill roll, and the snowball breaks into a million pieces at the bottom. You leave the book a little bewildered. It’s like seeing the legend die, right there. And that’s way more frightening than Robin dying, as per usual books. The legend dies. In practicality.
Which causes me to growl at unearthly times in the morning and pound my fist on the wall.
Plot: * * *
Characters: * * * *
“Fluently!”: * * *
Golden Arrow: * *
Overall: * * *