The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

Retro Friday is a weekly meme hosted by Angie over at Angieville and focuses on reviewing books from the past. This can be an old favorite, an under-the-radar book you think deserves more attention, something woefully out of print, etc.

I’ve never read a book about Robin Hood before. I think that most of what I know about him comes from the cartoons that I used to watch on TV as a kid. I have a vague idea of his story but I don’t know the details. So it was interesting to pick up Robin McKinley’s The Outlaws of Sherwood and read about one of the most popular thieves in fiction. This is an oldie but goodie that I bought from Better World Books. I would’ve probably read it earlier if the book was available here because Robin McKinley is one of my favorite authors. Also, Angie has this book on her Beloved Bookshelf and that made me want to read the book more.

Here’s the summary from Robin McKinley’s website:

Robin is an apprentice forester in the woods of Nottingham, but the sheriff’s men harass him at every opportunity. When he accidentally kills a man in self-defense, he flees into Sherwood Forest, knowing he will live the rest of his days as a hunted man.

But his friends believe the disaster is also an opportunity: an opportunity for a few stubborn Saxons to gather in secret under Robin’s leadership and strike back against the arrogance and brutality of the Norman overlords.

Robin McKinley’s Robin Hood surprised me in the sense that he didn’t behave the way I expected someone who leads a band of outlaws to behave. He was very much a reluctant leader from start to finish. I imagined him to be a merry kind of thief, eager to be an outlaw and passionate about leading his people against their oppressors. Instead, we get a Robin who’s very practical and whose primary concern is to protect the people he’s responsible for. When he accidentally kills a man, he was resigned to his fate and he didn’t even want to bring down others with him. But his friends are steadfast and loyal and they insisted on sticking by him. Another surprising thing is that Robin’s not much of an archer in this retelling. Marian is the one who can direct an arrow wherever she wants it to go. Can I just say that I love how there’s always a strong heroine in any McKinley book? This one is no exception and Marian is such a wonderful character. Against Robin’s wishes, she leads a double life as an outlaw in Sherwood Forest and as a lady in the town of Nottingham. Go Marian! Some of the other outlaws – like Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck – are fully developed and their individual stories are highlighted just as much as Robin’s is.

I believe The Outlaws of Sherwood is a good literary introduction to Robin Hood’s story (or maybe I’m just biased because I love Robin McKinley) and I hope more people get to read this. Who wouldn’t love a story about a group of people fighting for a better life by stealing from the rich and giving to the poor? It’s one of the best kinds of stories out there. Yay for thieves who believe in a cause! Thieves in fiction are awesome. There’s also a bit of romance in the book but I think the theme of friendship is much more evident. It’s a quiet kind of story and the writing reminded me of Chalice and Pegasus even if those two are fantasy and this one is historical fiction. I recommend this book to all fans of Robin McKinley, Robin Hood and historical fiction. Sorry for all the Robins in there, I hope it doesn’t create confusion. I already have a copy of Lady of the Forest by Jennifer Roberson on hand and I’m eager to see the similarities and differences between these two Robin Hood retellings.

Other reviews: (manually generated)
Emily’s Reading Room
Fyrefly’s Book Blog
It’s All About Books
Aelia Reads

21 thoughts on “The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley

  1. Thanks for the link! This was also my first (and still my only; I should really correct that) written Robin Hood story, and also my favorite of McKinley’s books that I’ve read so far.

    Have you read any of Scott Lynch’s books? The Lies of Locke Lamora is easily the best “thieves in fiction” book I’ve come across.

    • Oh what are the other McKinleys that you’ve read? My favorites are still The Blue Sword and Beauty.

      Yes, I’ve read The Lies of Locke Lamora and I enjoyed it but it didn’t make enough of an impression for me to go read the second book in the series. Have you read the Queen’s Thief series by Megan Whalen Turner? That’s my favorite series about a thief. πŸ˜€

  2. One of my only little complaints about McKinley is that she is so sparing on the romance–there are two paragraphs in this one that I read over and over again back in the day, desperatly wishing for more!

    • I think I know what are those two paragraphs that you kept on rereading. LOL. I wonder why I didn’t have a problem with the subtle romance? Maybe because there were two romances in here instead of just one.

    • Hey Misha, I’m jealous that you haven’t read any of Robin McKinley’s books! They’re beautiful. You’re going to enjoy reading them. Can’t wait to find out what emerges as your favorite. πŸ™‚

  3. I know the romance is subtly done in this one, but it remains one of my very favorites. The scene between the two of them at Friar Tuck’s near the end… *bestillmyheart*

    I’m so glad you read this one, Chachic. And that you liked it. When I read the Queen’s Thief series it reminded me of this book and that is a VERY good thing indeed. πŸ˜‰

    • The scene that you mentioned is indeed lovely. I also liked the other romance in the book (I can’t mention it for fear of spoilers) because I’m a fan of strong females.

      Thank you for recommending it again and again. πŸ™‚ I think it was your recent post about retellings that finally pushed me to read this and to buy Lady of the Forest. You’re absolutely right, anything that reminds us of Gen is a GOOD thing. πŸ˜€

  4. So glad you liked this one. I love the switch that Marian is the archer in this one. Awesome.

    And once again, we are reading the same sorts of books at the same time πŸ˜‰ I can’t wait to hear your thoughts on LADY OF THE FOREST.

    • I think it’s great that Marian is the better archer and it doesn’t even bother Robin a bit.

      LOL I think it’s mostly because of Angie’s influence? I can’t wait to see your review of Lady of the Forest.

  5. Another interesting McKinley book! Thanks for this review, Chachic; I think I’ll pick this one up. I’m a Robin Hood ‘fan’ (I watch every documentary I can come across) and thoroughly enjoyed Jennifer Roberson’s Lady of the Forest (her version seems heavier than this one though). I have so much faith in McKinley that I think I’ll definitely enjoy this! Thanks again for the reco.

    • Oooh Chris, if you’re a Robin Hood fan then you should really read this one. Maybe you can order it from the Book Depository or from Better World Books like I did. Where were you able to get a copy of Lady of the Forest? I ordered it online as well.

  6. Every time I read Outlaws of Sherwood, it takes me a super long time. I think last time I read it, it took me about a week. I’m not sure why this one book takes me so much longer than any of her others, but it frustrates me every time.

    That said, I love a lot of the things you hilighted; the development of side characters, Marion’s role as a strong woman, and Robin’s reluctance to be an outlaw, but his determination to protect his followers. I thought it was a very interesting way to approach Robin Hood.

    • It took me a while to finish this one too, like a week or so. But that’s because I was lazy. I kept sleeping whenever I got home from work instead of reading. Maybe the cool weather also has something to do with this.

      Yay, seems like we enjoyed the same things in this book. It’s a different approach to Robin Hood and I liked it although I have a feeling not everyone will.

      • I think people who go for a “traditional” Robin Hood may like it a bit less, or may not expect what they get, but I think it’s a pretty realistic portrayal.It makes sense for Robin to hesitate like he does.

      • Yes, it is a realistic portrayal – we get a leader who worries about day to day stuff and is more concerned with survival than anything else.

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