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The Outlaws of Sherwood    by Robin McKinley order for
Outlaws of Sherwood
by Robin McKinley
Order:  USA  Can
Firebird, 2002 (1988)
Softcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

The Outlaws of Sherwood is a re-telling of the Robin Hood legend, though with only a very subtle touch of the magic that breezes through most of McKinley's other marvellous works of fantasy. The story starts with three young people - Robin, son of a well-reputed Saxon forester, and his childhood friends Much and the tomboy, part-Norman Marian (who by the way is much more skilled at archery than is Robin).

The author gives us a different and very credible Robin. This is a pragmatist and a most reluctant rebel, who becomes an outlaw almost by accident, egged on by his idealistic, revolutionary friends (Much calls Robin 'a pessimist and a good planner.') Once Robin is in Sherwood, rumors spread like wildfire and all kinds of desperate folk start to show up in forest glades. Robin succors them with what little he has, and develops his outlaws' skills in the longbow and in woodscraft, as events build their own momentum and accelerate towards a violent climax.

In this version, Robin and Marian are heroic in a very human way - Robin with a 'fire in him' visible to all around him, and Marian who, against Robin's loud protests, plays a very dangerous game spying on the Normans while sneaking supplies into the forest. The traditional characters are all here, but more interesting than those we've met before, and new minor players, waifish Sess and quiet Marjorie in particular, add depth and romance.

Friar Tuck tells Sess that 'Tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are' and indeed Robin Hood's tale assumes a symbolic importance outside Sherwood Forest that leads Marian and others into great danger. Read The Outlaws of Sherwood to find out how it really might have been in the days of Lionheart; as usual this author will surprise you with a unique and satisfying ending.

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