Will in Scarlet

by Matthew Cody
First sentence: “In the year 1192, while King Richard the Lionheart was on his way home from fighting in far-off Jerusalem, the lords of Shackley Castle were out hunting wolves by moonlight.”
Support your local independent bookstore: buy it there!
Review copy provided by the publisher because this was a book group pick.
Content: There is some violence, and the word count/comprehension is pretty high. My 4th grader wasn’t interested in taking the time to read it, though it’s probably within her reading/comprehension level. Even though it’s in the middle grade (3-5th grade) section of the bookstore, it may be more suitable for older readers.

William Shackely is the only son of the lord of the manor. And, at 13, he’s ready to become a Man. Under his uncle’s guidance he’s pretty sure he can take over running the lands. That is, until Sir Guy, a toadie of Prince John and a despicable human being, comes in and takes over the Shackley Castle. All of a sudden, Will finds himself landless, and on the run.

He ends up stranded in Sherwood Forest, taken captive by the Merry Men, who are led by none other than… Gilbert. (There is this guy named Rob, though, drunk in the corner.) Will’s pretty sure they just want him for ransom, so (against the better judgement of a girl named Much — though the readers only know she’s a girl; the characters, being boys/men, are clueless) he convinces them to go back and raid Shackley Castle. It’s on that raid that he finds out that drunken Rob is actually a charismatic leader, a good planner, and someone worth fighting with (and for).

I’ll spoil it for you: Rob turns out, by the end, to be Robin Hood. But, getting there was a less than enjoyable experience. I have to admit that I’m shallow: my biggest problem with the book was the font. I didn’t think I was so affected by something that simple, but from the get-go, the layout (it’s crowded, the typeface smallish) bothered me. But it was also not what I had expected. I wanted Robin Hood. The whole myth and legend. And while elements of it were there (Sir Guy, the Sheriff of  Nottingham, Sherwood Forest, Little John) too much of it — including Robin himself — was missing. And while there was action (the first chapter starts out with a pretty intense wolf hunt), it wasn’t paced well. It’d be exciting for a bit, and then pages and pages of Will’s inner struggle with his desire for revenge.

There were some bright spots. I enjoyed Much as a character; she did hold her own with all the guys. And I liked that there really wasn’t a romance. But, mostly, it just feel flat for me.

Which was disappointing.

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