A runaway noblewoman takes up robbery, aided by a band of merry rogues, in this gender-flipped Robin Hood retelling.
Lady Silviana flees to the forest, mostly to escape her brutal brother, John, and his incestuous desires. Along with a servant, a boy named Bird who is her lifelong friend and love interest, she offers refuge to John’s victims, starting with the raped and pregnant Little Jane. To her astonishment, Silvie soon finds these outlaws are looking to her to command an uprising against feudal injustice. Pseudo-British, vaguely medieval Esting is an intriguing world—nobles are either dark-complexioned or extremely pale, and they rule over a population that is somewhere in the middle in terms of coloring; most occupations are open to men and women alike; and birth control, abortion, and bisexuality are openly accepted—yet patriarchal authority essentially remains unchallenged. Themes of freedom and feminism are heavily emphasized, while traditional swashbuckling is downplayed in favor of Silvie’s romantic angst and dawning social consciousness. Colorful side characters are vividly drawn, if occasionally wincingly exoticized (especially the princess Ghazia), and are frankly more compelling than diffident Silvie or blandly perfect Bird. Nonetheless, the inspiring ethos, brisk pace, and genuinely thrilling climax all hold attention even if the disappointing epilogue suggests that systemic oppression can be corrected by punishing one egregious villain.
Pleasant enough, but Silvie’s constant protestations against her leadership and heroism won’t get much argument. (Fantasy. 12-18)