Monday, October 1, 2012

Book Review - Angus Donald

Outlaw by Angus Donald
Outlaw
Review by Jacqui Slaney

I have always had a soft spot for Robin Hood stories, I still remember as a child watching the old Errol Flynn version, loving every minute, especially the sword fight between him and the evil Basil Rathbone! In fact if I am honest I still do. So when I found this book, I could not resist. This is the description:
When he’s caught stealing, young Alan Dale is forced to leave his family and go to live with a notorious band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Their leader is the infamous Robin Hood. A tough, bloodthirsty warrior, Robin is more feared than any man in the county. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight - and how to win. However, Robin is a ruthless man - and although he is Alan's protector, if Alan displeases him, he could just as easily become his murderer....
From bloody battles to riotous feast days to marauding packs of wolves, Outlaw is a gripping, action-packed historical thriller that delves deep into the fascinating legend of Robin Hood.
Alan Dale who is the main character in the book is now an old man, and the book starts with him deciding to write about the exploits of his youth. He tells the story of his change from a petty thief who nearly loses his hand, to a trusted member of Robin’s band. All the expected characters are here- Little John, Friar Tuck, Will Scarlett and Marion – all though here she is known as Marie- Anne. They are all mentioned although shown in different ways; Friar Tuck for example is much stronger than shown in the various films and argues continually with Robin almost to bloodshed about his behaviour.
Robin in this book is no Hollywood figure living in a neat and tidy Sherwood, he is shown here to be much as you would expect him to be: completely ruthless, brutal to his enemies and loyal to the few friends that he has. Instead of the ex noble stripping gold only from the wealthy, the book shows how the villagers themselves pay him for protection and also use Robin as a judge in their village disputes- all of which obviously they pay for.
You do as a reader have some difficulty liking the character of  Robin, but this conflict in the reader is shown very cleverly though the character of Alan, who in one minute can be completely hero struck by Robin the next feeling sick as the man he is awe of orders gruesome punishments on those who betray the outlaws.
The writing is fast paced and there is plenty of action and though this is the first in a series of books, the ending is satisfying and complete. There is a similar feeling to the style as in the Bernard Cornwell War Lord Chronicles, especially when the story switches to what is happening to Alan in the present day. The history of the time is dealt with well, the hardships of the villagers’ lives being believable set against the life of the nobles.
There are few niggles, one of the sub plots to the story is that there is a spy in Robins men and Alan tries to work out who it is, I thought the person was quite obvious so found Alan’s thoughts on this a little annoying.
This aside I still like the book and have hopes for the rest of the series and so would definitely recommend it.
8 out of 10