“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 country. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight – and how to win. But Robin is a ruthless man – and although he is Alan’s protector, if Alan displeases him, he could just as easily become his murderer…”
After reading a slew of SFF novels, I was feeling in the mood for some historical fiction. Angus Donald’s Outlaw had been on my to-read shelf for quite some time, so I decided to give it a shot. In reality, I wanted to get through it as fast as possible so as to move the second novel in The Outlaw Chronicles, Holy Warrior, up in my queue. Holy Warrior piqued my interest immediately in the blurb – Robin Hood, Richard the Lionheart, and the Third Crusade packed into one novel? What more could I want in a historical fiction novel? Anyway, I digress.
Alan Dale is the lowest of the low – essentially a street rat, forced to steal to make a living. Robin Hood, “holding court” in Alan’s town of Nottingham. Alan’s mother convinces Robin to take Alan under his wing, and so begins the story of Outlaw.
Many of Robin’s Merry Men are present – Little John, Much, Will Scarlet, Tuck, and of course the man himself. In Outlaw, Robin is no man-in-tights do-gooder, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. He’s a brutal, bloodthirsty bastard ready to kill at the drop of a pin. I haven’t read many Robin Hood novels, and I find myself looking for darker, grittier novels to read, so the older children’s novels were of little interest. Outlaw is a coming-of-age tale, with our protagonist Alan Dale being around 13 or 14 at the outset of the novel, but it is without question an adult novel. Graphic violence and sex are abundant, and some comedy also finds its way in, even in the darkest of times.
Speaking of graphic violence, the battle scenes are exceptionally done and often described in detail, as is a particular torture scene, which I’ll not to discuss so as to keep this review spoiler-free. The environments, whether the scene is in summer or winter, are described in detail, but not at all in fluffy, boring detail – Donald did an excellent job painting each scene.
Historical accuracy is always a difficult subject to read for one so interested in history as I am. There were no qualms from me going in because, as anyone who has read even a bit about Robin Hood knows, he may not even have existed. The blend of fiction and history was what drew me to Outlaw and eventually the rest of the series was this blend, and Donald could not have done better, down to battle formations and the illness and subsequent death of Henry II, and many other examples.
Angus Donald’s Outlaw was a fast-paced, gripping read in which I found myself reading most of it in one sitting, eager for more. If you’re looking for a fresh new take on Robin Hood, look no further than Outlaw. It takes skill for a writer to tie up the story into a nice knot at the end and still leave readers begging for more, and luckily for me, The Outlaw Chronicles stand at 5 novels with a sixth on its way.