I had the distinct pleasure of plowing through both of Carrie Vaughn’s Robin Hood Stories, The Ghosts of Sherwood and The Heirs of Locksley, yesterday on a whim. and I am so happy I did! These two have been sitting on my YA/middle grade shelf ever since they came out. I don’t normally seek out middle grade books, however I am a huge sucker for anything Robin Hood related, and I loved the idea of Robin and Marian having kids and seeing what their domestic lives would be like. I also liked Vaughn’s attitude towards writing Robin Hood retellings:
Every novel about Robin Hood from the last forty years or so ends with an author’s note discussing the difficulty of writing about a historical Robin Hood, and justifying the choices the authors made in portraying their own versions . . . Well I’m not going to write that note because I’m not sure any of that really matters. Because all Robin Hood stories are fanfiction. Robin Hood started out as fanfiction and has never been anything else.Carrie Vaughn, The Heirs of Locksley Author’s Note
From the Publisher:
The Ghosts of Sherwood:
Robin of Locksley and his one true love, Marian, are married. It has been close on two decades since they beat the Sheriff of Nottingham with the help of a diverse band of talented friends. King John is now on the throne, and Robin has sworn fealty in order to further protect not just his family, but those of the lords and barons who look up to him – and, by extension, the villagers they protect.
There is a truce. An uneasy one, to be sure, but a truce, nonetheless.
But when the Locksley children are stolen away by persons unknown, Robin and Marian are going to need the help of everyone they’ve ever known, perhaps even the ghosts that are said to reside deep within Sherwood.
And the Locksley children, despite appearances to the contrary, are not without tricks of their own…
The Heirs of Locksley:
The latest civil war in England has come and gone, King John is dead, and the nobility of England gathers to see the coronation of his son, thirteen-year-old King Henry III.
The new king is at the center of political rivalries and power struggles, but John of Locksley—son of the legendary Robin Hood and Lady Marian—only sees a lonely boy in need of friends. John and his sisters succeed in befriending Henry, while also inadvertently uncovering a political plot, saving a man’s life, and carrying out daring escapes.
All in a day’s work for the Locksley children…
What I Loved:
- The Children. I guess this is an oversimplification, since Mary, John, and Eleanor are the main characters. However, I think that the three kids of Robin and Marian are exactly how I picture the children of Robin Hood to be: Independent, strong, constantly trying to live up to their parent’s legacy but also loving and devoted to their parents. Mary is a kicka** tree climbing archer that has dreams for it all: the rough and tumble life, and a love like that of her parent’s. John, named after Little John, is stubborn and strong, and wants nothing to do with politics but finds an unlikely ally in young King Henry II. Eleanor is faelike and cunning, focused, and resourceful, and despite being mute, she holds her own. Each character was very relatable for their age group, despite the books taking place four years apart.
- The Evolution of Robin. I must admit, I was wary to see how they were going to portray “middle aged” Robin. Would he still be running off into danger with no care for the safety of his family? Or would he be old and tired? It turns out, Vaughn struck a lovely balance between the two: this Robin does want to rest from the politics, and does want to honor King Richard’s wishes that John be king again. And yet when his family is in danger, Robin is just as willing as ever to put on his cap and fire arrows at antagonists with his band of merry men. He is still charming and energetic, but now has a family that keeps him grounded.
- The Plots. Again, vague. In both Ghosts and Heirs, the children are at the forefront. In Ghosts, Mary, John, and Eleanor are kidnapped by a man trying to prove loyalty to King John, and the children get to show their own unique skills to rescue themselves. In Heirs, John befriends new king Henry and shows that sometimes, a teenager is just a teenager, even with a crown. Each plot is neat, linear, and engaging (if too short… see more below), and the reader is sucked in and doesn’t want to stop until the end.
What Worked Less Well:
- The Length. Yes, I know there are middle grade books. However, so is the Harry Potter series, and you don’t see kids complaining. Vaughn wrote such a compelling story here in two short novellas, it is impossible not to want more. Also, there is a couple of plot threads that are sort of left hanging with a book this short (Does Little John ever come back to the fold? Is Robin’s son John gay?) and I am sure everyone reading these can’t help but feel a little cheated with each installation being under 150 pages.
- (Related) Poor Marketing. This may be on me, but I did go through other reviews on Goodreads and noticed a lot of us had the same problem: We had no idea this was going to be a novella and not a novel, and that it was middle grade/YA fiction. While I ended up enjoying it despite that, I think the marketing was misleading, if not intentional, to get Robin Hood buffs to buy before realizing. I usually expect more from Tor Publishing.
While the length of these books and the middle grade voice were unexpected and a little annoying, I still think Ghosts of Sherwood and Heirs of Locksley are awesome additions to the Robin Hood canon. I preferred them over the edgier offering of Nottingham by Nathan Makaryk from came last year, which left me unsettled and annoyed despite being well written. I hope we get more from Vaughn’s little interpretation of Sherwood. Four waves! Bring both of these to the beach for yourself or the kids; they are easy to finish on one trip. Available now here for paperback and here for Kindle (only $3.99 each for Kindle!).