The Outlaws of Sherwood
by Robin McKinley

Ace Books, 1988, 278 pp., $6.50
ISBN 0-441-64451-1

In The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley draws on many of the legends that surround the infamous Robin Hood--from his reputed archery skills, to his stealing from the rich Norman landlords, to his deadly battle with the assassin Guy of Gisbourne--weaving the disparate tales into one comprehensive volume.

McKinley incorporates many characters (so many that you do need to read carefully to distinguish between them) and yet artfully blends their stories and personalities as she creates a band of outlaws for whom we feel compassion and sympathy despite their lawlessness.

We see Robin at his beginning--a fugitive from the law after he accidentally kills a rival forester, he is convinced by friends to hide out in Sherwood Forest and lead a band of fellow Saxons as they wreak havoc on the Norman rulers.  Robin is believable in that McKinley does not portray him as the mighty hero so often told in legend.  Instead Robin is fallible; he is a mediocre archer who, though comfortable alone in the woods, is often uncertain of his ability to lead.  Through the course of the novel we see Robin grow into his newfound role, with strong support from his close friends and fellow outlaws.

For many readers, the characters who stand out most strongly are, surprisingly, women. Maid Marian is certainly not the meek lady doting on the heroic Robin Hood in this tale.  In contrast, it is Marian who is the sharpest marksman of the group; it is Marian who, in her double role as daring outlaw and dutiful aristocratic daughter, fends off trouble for the outlaws on many fronts; and it is Marian who believes in Robin's potential so strongly that her faith bolsters him in times of weakness.

Readers who like strong female character will be drawn to this book.  Similarly, those who appreciate the lore and intrigue of a centuries-old legend will find this telling of the adventures of Robin and his gang fresh and irresistible.

~ reviewed by ABC