REVIEW: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen
Dear Ms. Gaughen,
I picked up your debut because it looked like a good change of pace from all the paranormal YA. Now I’ll be the first to admit I’m not a die-hard fan of Robin Hood but this seemed like it could be fun. Sometimes that’s more than enough reason for me.
Scarlet is the Robin Hood story retold from the POV of Will Scarlet. With one major difference: Will Scarlet is actually a girl. Some people may not care for this change but I liked the idea of the “true” story being muddled by history. Everyone knows history passed down can warp the facts, whether by design or just by inaccurate retellings, so I found it believable that Will Scarlet’s true gender was forgotten by time. After all she assumed the identity of a boy, so aside from a few people, who would know?
And I would just like to say, after reading a rash of fantasy and paranormal novels in which the heroine is a redhead, thank you for not going that route with Scarlet. I was fearful of potential twee, but her nickname does not come from her hair color at all. (They come from her hair ribbons that she now ties to her knives.)
Other than the genderbending of the Will Scarlet character, the book follows the general Robin Hood story. King Richard is away at the Crusades. Robin was a noble himself but his lands were taken away, and now he has assembled a band of thieves and they steal from the rich and give to the poor. The story itself is not meant to be a surprise.
What did surprise me was the narrative voice. Scarlet is written in first-person POV and the style evokes an old English feel. I could hear Scarlet’s voice in my head, talking rough and sounding like a common peasant.
I really enjoyed Scarlet as a protagonist. She’s not everyone’s cup of tea. She’s very flawed. She’s secretive and distrustful but all those things fleshed out her character and made her very real to me. Scarlet ran away from an unwanted marriage and in truth, has been running ever since because her fiance is a vindictive sort. I can understand that first impulse to run. Robin and the others may dislike it and view it as being disloyal, but it made a lot of sense.
The one thing I did not enjoy as much was the romantic subplot. There is a love triangle between Scarlet, (Little) John and Robin. Scarlet is obviously in love with Robin, even if she doesn’t admit it herself, but for various reasons she considers him out of her league and won’t even consider the possibility of them ever becoming a couple. She also likes John but really only as a friend and comrade. John is a bit of player and Scarlet knows this, so she doesn’t entirely trust his intentions towards her since she’s not one for random hook-ups.
If the subplot had been left at this, I would have been fine with it. I could sympathize with Scarlet. She doesn’t think she’s worthy of Robin, so she’s confused about their relationship. She likes John well enough and maybe a relationship with him might be worth pursuing. These are all things we experience as we get older, and I see nothing wrong with that.
What I do see wrong is John’s pressuring of Scarlet. He kisses her once and then he thinks he owns her. When Scarlet later tells him that she doesn’t want a relationship with him, he doesn’t take no for an answer. Robin gets angry about the relationship between John and Scarlet but doesn’t do anything about it. He takes John’s behavior over Scarlet’s words when she tells him there’s nothing going on between them. He doesn’t go after Scarlet but he apparently doesn’t think anyone else can either. He assumes Scarlet is playing with John’s feelings. (Remember that John is the one who sleeps with multiple girls.) He says Scarlet will break up the band with these antics. This is irritating. Why is everything the girl’s fault? Oh, that’s right. It’s because she’s a girl so she gets 100% of the blame and the guys none.
Finally, I found the ending to be too open and lacked closure. I can’t figure out if this book is the first of a series or a standalone. I assumed it was a standalone because it’s based on the Robin Hood story and how much more can you drag that out? But given the way it actually ended, I wonder.
Overall, the character of Scarlet made this book worth reading for me. I found the narrative voice to be interesting and unique. On the downside, the love triangle left me irritated at best. For a good stretch of the book, I didn’t believe either of the two options deserved her considering the way they treated her. C