SPOILER ALERT!

Review: Scarlet (Scarlet #1) by A.C. Gaughen

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Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets - skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood's band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet's biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know...that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl.
 

The terrible events in her past that led Scarlet to hide her real identity are in danger of being exposed when the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men once and for all. As Gisbourne closes in and puts innocent lives at risk, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more - making this a fight worth dying for.

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Like the description says, Scarlet is an imaginative take on the Robin Hood legend, telling things from the point-of-view of a young girl posing as a boy in their band of thieves. And like all thieves, Scarlet is fleeing her past, a past filled with secrets that should they come to light, could destroy both Robin's group and Nottinghamshire as well.

 

What's Good: From the outset there's lots of showing not telling, slipping in teasers about Scarlet's past and her own innate goodness, and yes- her crush on a certain bandit leader. Throughout the story we're given cookie crumbs about Scar as the story progresses- maintaining the mystery and intrigue of her character. Gaughen does a good job of making you feel the different characters' own desperation of their situation at times, and firmly establishes Scarlet's motivations and perspective on things.

 

What's Bad: Scar's MarySue escapades: she's sure with a knife, got an eye for fat merchants when no else does (the boys can't even tell who to rob properly without her around), skillz enough to tell when a baby's turned in the womb, always knows how to break in and out a prison or a castle, etc. No explanation of how she acquired all these skills though- other than constantly repeating that she's been a thief... for all of three years. Yet Robin's as a seasoned war veteran with over ten years experience can't seem to plan half as well as this girl half his age.

 

The moments of suspense built up in the story crash like a lead balloon. At different points some of their friends and other locals are imprisoned, yet breaking them out is treated like another day's work. "Bob's imprisoned in the castle, you say? No problem; we'll break him out, oh... Tuesday after lunch? Guys? Tuesday it is, then!" And since they've been so good at it for so long, what's the point of even locking people up around here?

 

Neither Scar, her friend Much or anyone else should know anything about gunpowder; they don't even have guns yet, let alone actually calling it gunpowder. If anyone would have the faintest idea about it, it would be Robin from serving in the Crusades, and he really doesn't. And they certainly wouldn't come by it from scraping it off a cave wall- it's a chemical compound that has to be properly mixed.

 

Sir Guy of Gisbourne is a cheesy, two-dimensional villain who has nothing to do other than be a raving psychopath. Despite the reasons given for his presence he's only there because he's part of the legend, and that's it. He also wields a claymore- a two-handed Scottish sword- so well he has Robin on the ropes even after Gisbourne's been stabbed twice in his sword arm. If that ain't enough, how about the fact that at this point in history claymores won't even be invented for another fifty years or so. Gunpowder without guns and swords that don't exist- an excellent job of research by the author. And this being a YA novel is no excuse; if anything she should've worked harder to get things right since teens reading this wouldn't know much more than generalities.

 

Being a YA novel in this post-Twilight age, there's a love triangle dumped into the story. And like most love triangles that serve no real purpose not only is it forced, once Scarlet's true identity is revealed it's also pointless since you know how it's going to turn out.

 

The finale is rushed, convoluted, completely over the top and ridiculously bloody with a body count like something out of Game of Thrones. Also it's the only part where any real tension is generated but it gets lost in all the gratuitous, almost comical violence.

 

What's Left: Lots of flavor and a decent feel for the times- Nottinghamshire is a dirty, hardscrabble place in the wake of the sheriff's tyranny over the populace. Many of the lesser characters help to round things out, showing the desperation and sense of hope Robin and the group gives them.

 

Scarlet is a fun read overall, like a fresh twist on an old story often is. But it falls prey to too many cliché's and some laziness. But there's room left open for sequels, so here's to hoping for some tighter storytelling.

 
3/5 stars