Seleste Reviews: Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

ScarletPosing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her female identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only Robin and his band know the truth. As Gisbourne closes in, helping the people of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life, but her fierce loyalty to Robin-whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her-keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

  • Paperback: 304 pages
  • Price: $9.99
  • Publisher: Walker Childrens; 1 edition (February 26, 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0802734243
  • ISBN-13: 978-0802734242
  • Buy at Amazon

 

Robin Hood from the perspective of a female? And not a damsel-in-distress? I first caught wind of Scarlet when it was on Netgalley last year, but by the time I saw a window to get to it, the ARC had been removed. Other books came and took precedence, but every once in a while I’d see this one on my radar and remember how I’d wanted to read it. Finally made time and I’m glad I did.

The first thing you need to know when tackling this book is Scarlet doesn’t talk like your typical YA narrator, and since the book is in first person, you will deal with the voice through the whole thing. For myself, it was really jarring for the first couple chapters. As I got deeper into the story though, I’d begin to notice places where it seemed like she should speak rougher than she did. Eventually, the voice mostly faded into the background, but to give you a taste, here’s a snippet from right when we meet our intrepid heroine:

I opened the door to Friar Tuck’s and the air fair slapped me ‘cross the face. It were too hot and stank of beer and men, and I smiled. It were rough, but none here would turn me out for being a thief and a liar. I slipped in the door and moved quiet past Tuck, the innkeep, and went into the barroom. It were heaving with bodies, laughs, and mugs slinging ’bout. The lasses pushed through the lot, using a smile or slap as needed to get their own way.

As I said, I adjusted to the voice fairly quickly–and actually grew to appreciate it–but I’m sure it would bother some readers.

The characters… For starters, everyone is younger than in the typical Robin Hood story (making them age-appropriate for YA). I was torn between this being a distraction and not. Most of the time, I forgot their ages until they were mentioned, but then I’d start wondering at what age Robin left for the crusades if he was already back and with his gang by eighteen. But damn I liked him. The noble among ruffians in this book was rougher than in most versions of the story that I’ve seen or read–almost as if he truly became more like them the longer he stayed “The Hood.” Scarlet I liked but didn’t love. I loved her bad-assitude. The author didn’t try to make her the same as the guys by giving her a sword. Knives were her weapon of choice and I could completely see a young woman hundreds of years ago taking to the street and becoming Scarlet in that way. However, considering her past–which comes to light through the course of the story–she should have been at least as wise in the ways of the world as Robin was, and sometimes it didn’t feel that way. Especially when dealing with the love triangle between her and John and Robin.

Ah, the love triangle. I know this is becoming a tried and true aspect of YA, and I generally like it there because of the fact that often the teen years are spent choosing romantically between the athlete and the brain, the hunk and the best friend, the… you get my point. In this case though, John was painted not only as a player of the first order, but also as really pushy. Reading him (and I usually really like Little John as a character), he reminded me of the bad guy in some teen romances. The guy who pushes himself on the girl. The one you want to warn your friends, daughters, nieces, and sisters about. Sure, he did heroic things throughout the book, but I never felt like he was a hero because of the way he treated women. Because of that, it never felt like a real love triangle to me. Also? The fact that he showed no interest in Scarlet until he caught her in a dress bothered me to no end. That was when he decided he was interested. That was when he started to push himself on her. It left a bad taste in my mouth, kind of like seeing her as female (more than just knowing she was) gave him the right to treat her as an object…and a sexual object. Nope. For the first time ever, Little John wasn’t a hero.

As for the plot itself, I liked the twist that Gisbourne was brought in to catch Robin and his band, but ultimately he was after Scarlet (because of the aforementioned past). The downside to that is though this book focuses on Scarlet, I kind of wanted more Robin Hood. No matter who’s telling the story, I come to a Robin Hood story for him. There was a twist in there that I should have seen coming but didn’t, a fact that always raises a story in my estimation. And said twist did bring everything full circle in a way that worked for me. This would have been enough to balance out the Little John issue, except…

The book was left open for a sequel. I won’t explain how, but was not satisfied by the ending. According to the author’s website, Scarlet was originally envisioned as a stand-alone and it didn’t feel that way. (There are sequels coming, the first in winter 2014) I’m not against cliff-hangers as a general rule, but the way this one was done really bothered me because it felt like it was left open to tell almost the same story in the next book rather than a new fight.

I’m really torn on Scarlet because there was so much about it that I liked. And if the ending had been more satisfying, I would have walked away from it with feeling really great about the entire book. But it wasn’t. It felt weak, and I hated John’s reasoning for his behavior at the end. Again, it didn’t make him a hero or a good love interest. It made him borderline despicable for me. Ultimately, the ending and everything about John pushed the book from really good to just okay. 

3 Stars

 

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