The origin story of one of the Merry Men is rousingly told.
It’s 1192. Thirteen-year-old Will Shackley, son of a lord returning from the Holy Land with King Richard I, becomes caught up in deadly political machinations when he runs afoul of the evil Sir Guy of Gisborne, loyal to the king’s usurping brother, Prince John. Wounded after fleeing his ancestral home and his beloved uncle’s murder, Will is grudgingly given haven in Sherwood Forest by a band of outlaws headed by a brute (no—not what you’re thinking). Determined to return to his father’s castle to exact revenge upon Sir Guy, now installed there, Will leads the band on a raid with treasure as its ostensible object. As the tale proceeds, Will, a deft swordsman wearing a red coat that gives him his name, finds friendship among the outlaws and begins to feel loyalty to them; he also grows in maturity as he learns that villainy isn’t as easily recognizable as he once believed. Readers familiar with the Robin Hood legend will find an unusual, perhaps unsettling, interpretation of their hero: First appearing as a drunken, irresponsible lout, Rob, too, develops self-discipline and eventually hits his stride; the story of how he comes to lead the Merry Men is plausibly told. There’s action, adventure and humor here, not to mention a fiercely proud female disguised as a boy. Characters are likable, and some modern turns of phrase don’t interrupt the narrative’s flow.
A nice addition to the Robin Hood canon. (map, cast of characters) (Historical fiction. 9-12)