Scarlet (Scarlet #1) by A.C. Gaughen
Genre: Young Adult Historical/Adventure
Publisher: Walker Childrens
Release date: 2012
Source: Purchased copy
The nitty-gritty: A feisty heroine, a noble cause, and sometimes violent action, all wrapped up in beautiful writing.
He stopped in the center of the market square, stepping up on a small fountain. “Perhaps I should introduce myself,” he called. People stopped to look at him. He were wrapped in violence as if it were clothes, his cloak like death, his armor like blades. His hair were shaggy as an animal’s and it looked like the Devil were trapped in his head.
I, like many of my fellow bloggers, am playing catch-up and decided to finally read Scarlet in preparation for book two in the series, Lady Thief, which releases in a couple of weeks. I had heard amazing things about this book, and so I went into it with certain expectations. I’m happy to report that I did indeed love Scarlet, but I also had a few issues with it, and I’m not sure if those of you who loved it more than I did will agree with me.
Gaughen has taken a classic tale (which is based in truth) and made it feel fresh. In her version of Robin Hood, the character of Will Scarlet is female, but she’s disguising herself as a male, and only her closest friends know the truth. The author talks about the research she did for this book in her Author’s Note at the back, which I highly recommend reading. (I feel there aren’t enough authors out there who bother to write notes at the end of their books. Oftentimes it’s one of my favorite things!) Our girl Scarlet is a wonderful character. She’s a thief, a knife-thrower, a tree-climber, and she has a heart of gold. She’s living in a time when girls aren’t supposed to do any of these things, which is part of the appeal of this story. Scarlet knows she’s not supposed to steal, but she does it anyway to save the poor in the village, and to atone for her past.
And then there’s the wonderful character of Rob. He’s a thief as well, but he’s polite when he holds a knife to someone’s throat and asks for their money. He cares deeply for the members of his “band,” especially Scarlet, who has no idea how he feels about her. I also loved Much, a boy who had one hand chopped off when he was caught stealing.
And then there is John, the third side of the unfortunate love triangle about which I must speak. John was my least favorite character in the book and fell even lower on my scale than the bad guys, the Sheriff of Nottingham and Gisbourne, the man who has come to hunt and kill Rob. Many readers loved the relationship between Scarlet and Rob, and I did too. But the addition of John into the mix turned things slightly sour for me. John is a womanizer and does all sorts of things with the girls in the village. But he mostly wants Scarlet, and he whines and carries on about her throughout most of the story. Scarlet tries to fend him off, but he seems pretty stupid and just never gets the hint. And Scarlet doesn’t help things, because she has no idea who she wants, and she manages to send mixed messages to both boys. One moment she’s pushing John away, and the next she’s cuddled up next to him as he strokes her hair (with Rob glaring at them from the side, of course). And all the while she’s trying to keep her femininity under wraps, dressing like a boy and stuffing her hair under a cap. So no, I didn’t care much for the love triangle.
I also was slightly baffled by the characters’ ages, and each one felt much younger than they were supposed to be. Perhaps I was trying to shove them into the typical YA box of fourteen-to-seventeen years old, and they were all eighteen or older. Trying to envision eighteen-year-old Scarlet climbing trees and swinging by branches like a monkey just didn’t work for me. Now I realize in other versions of Robin Hood all the characters are adults, so I’m not sure why this bothered me. Did anyone else feel this way?
But aside from these things, I loved Scarlet for so many reasons. I loved that Scarlet narrates and speaks in a dialect that is most likely true to the place and time of the story. (Although I did stumble at first over the constant use of the word “were” in place of “was” (see above quote), my brain eventually accepted it and it became second nature.) I loved the sense of tension that never eases up: tension between the thieves and the townspeople, tension as we wonder whether or not Rob will be able to help everyone before tax day, and of course, the romantic tension between Scarlet and Rob. I loved that Scarlet has a mysterious past and won’t share it with Rob. And I loved the bloody fights and battles between the band and Gisbourne and the sheriff.
But most of all I loved Gaughen’s perfect writing. Every single word was necessary in this story, and every sentence was beautifully constructed. She’s one of those writers who knows how to end paragraphs on the right beat. It almost feels as if she’s writing a song.
Lady Thief’s release is mere weeks away, and I’m so excited to immerse myself again in the lush and dangerous world that A.C. Gaughen has created.
You can find Scarlet here: