According to Matthew Cody, author of this book, there really is no official version of the Robin Hood tale. The basic foundation of the folk lore surrounding this classic hero seems to change with the political climate often enough to suspect that perhaps the legend evolving over the years is more a conglomerate of characters and repeated among the downtrodden to keep hope alive. In any case, in his research the author found very little about young Will Shackley, a member of Robin’s Merry Men; he felt comfortable enough, then, to add his contribution to the plethora of tales about the Merry Men of Sherwood Forest. I love the final product of this author’s fertile imagination. The story reads like a convincing historical fiction about the birth of a legendary character.
Will in Scarlet opens with an adventure that turns Will Shackley, the boy of 13, into Wolfslayer the young man, under the tutelage of Sir Osbert, an old knight in the service of the Shackley family. It was a time when boys had to grow up fast, especially young lordlings about to get kicked in the teeth by life. Will’s father, Lord Roderic Shackley, was at the side of his king, King Richard the Lionheart, sailing home after two years of fighting in the crusades in Jerusalem. News had just arrived of the capture and imprisonment of King Richard and his men. When Sir Guy of Gisborne shows up at the lad’s celebration, Will’s life is forever changed.
The Shackley family friend, Mark Brewer, once a friend of the family, now Prince John’s appointed Sheriff of Nottingham, turns traitor and the Regent of Shackley Castle, Will’s Uncle Geoff Shackley is deceived and slain. Will and his mother narrowly escaped the ignoble Sir Guy through a secret underground tunnel and flee to safely. Will’s mother traveled to France and took refuge with her family. Will struck out on his own and ended up in Sherwood Forest where he was found by the Merry Men, nearly at the end of his life. Much the Miller’s son nursed him back to health. He takes up the mantle as Will Scarlet, eventually one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. His adventures have only just begun.
I enjoyed the fast-paced adventures of Will and Much, the Miller’s son. The author tells the story so well that I quickly became engrossed in the tale. There’s suspense, danger, a touch of history, and a lot of imagination. The characterization of Will, Much, and Robin himself is well-written, each one maturing enough to find himself and the purpose for his existence. It is an appealing middle grade read, attractive for boys and girls alike, even to those who may be new to reading period books or historical fiction. I highly recommend it.
One cautionary note: I found a tiny bit of crude language, something that would have been historically part of an outlaw’s language. But those moments are rare and not actual swear words. I believe most careful parents would find it of little concern. When my children were young, if I owned the book, the words became a topic of discussion and/or whited out.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received a complimentary review copy of this book from NetGalley, on behalf of Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”
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