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The Outlaws of Sherwood

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New York Times bestselling author Robin McKinley's vivid retelling of the classic story of Robin Hood breathes contemporary life into these beloved adventures, with Marian taking a pivotal role as one of Robin's best archers.

368 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1988

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About the author

Robin McKinley

39 books6,830 followers
Born in her mother's hometown of Warren, Ohio, Robin McKinley grew up an only child with a father in the United States Navy. She moved around frequently as a child and read copiously; she credits this background with the inspiration for her stories.

Her passion for reading was one of the most constant things in her childhood, so she began to remember events, places, and time periods by what books she read where. For example, she read Andrew Lang's Blue Fairy Book for the first time in California; The Chronicles of Narnia for the first time in New York; The Lord of the Rings for the first time in Japan; The Once and Future King for the first time in Maine. She still uses books to keep track of her life.

McKinley attended Gould Academy, a preparatory school in Bethel, Maine, and Dickinson College in 1970-1972. In 1975, she was graduated summa cum laude from Bowdoin College. In 1978, her first novel, Beauty, was accepted by the first publisher she sent it to, and she began her writing career, at age 26. At the time she was living in Brunswick, Maine. Since then she has lived in Boston, on a horse farm in Eastern Massachusetts, in New York City, in Blue Hill, Maine, and now in Hampshire, England, with her husband Peter Dickinson (also a writer, and with whom she co-wrote Water: Tales of Elemental Spirits in 2001) and two lurchers (crossbred sighthounds).

Over the years she has worked as an editor and transcriber (1972-73), research assistant (1976-77), bookstore clerk (1978), teacher and counselor (1978-79), editorial assistant (1979-81), barn manager (1981-82), free-lance editor (1982-85), and full-time writer. Other than writing and reading books, she divides her time mainly between walking her "hellhounds," gardening, cooking, playing the piano, homeopathy, change ringing, and keeping her blog.

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Displaying 1 - 30 of 973 reviews
Profile Image for Tadiana ✩Night Owl☽.
1,880 reviews22.8k followers
January 7, 2020
3.5 stars. Full review, first posted on Fantasy Literature:

I’ve owned a paperback copy of The Outlaws of Sherwood, a retelling of the Robin Hood folktale, for ages, dating back to the days when I was auto-buying everything Robin McKinley wrote. It’s a very different type of book for her: a straightforward historical novel — no fantasy elements at all — telling how Robin came to be the leader of a band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest, and how several of the key members of his group came to join him. The focus here is on the different personalities in the group and how they interact with each other.

Robin has led a downtrodden life since his father, a far more gifted archer than Robin himself, died under rather suspicious circumstances. His boss, the Chief Forester, hates him as the son of the man who married the woman the Chief Forester wanted for himself, and his cronies have been bullying Robin. In their attempt to take Robin down, he strikes back with an arrow that kills one of the men (Robin was aiming at the man’s leg; his lack of archery skill backfires on him in a deadly way here, though it may have saved his life). Robin plans to run away, but Marian and Much, the miller’s son, find him and eventually convince a deeply reluctant Robin that forming a band of free men in Sherwood Forest is a better idea. He’ll be a symbol of Saxon freedom against the Norman oppressors! (Yay? says Robin.)

Robin’s group of outlaws gradually grows, with names both familiar (like Little John, Will Scarlet and Alan-a-dale) and unfamiliar (including several women who join their group). Marian remains in her father’s castle but uses her position to secretly supply the band with food and other necessities and spy for them. Robin decides to learn how to use his father’s longbow (an unusual type of bow at this time in history) and trains others in his band to make and use them as well, giving them an advantage over the sheriff’s men.

Interestingly, Robin himself is more of a beta hero in this story — as far from the Errol Flynn mold as can be imagined — and initially he’s more driven by events that happen to him than affirmatively taking action himself. As mentioned, he’s not much of an archer; Marian is the one with the real archery skills. This makes for an interesting twist on the famous archery contest story.

Robin McKinley has a gift for creating well-rounded characters with realistic problems and flaws, and an engaging writing style with a dry wit that periodically surfaces. Like the original Robin Hood tales, The Outlaws of Sherwood is an episodic type of novel, with a series of adventures and conflicts, and several twists on the original legends. It’s mostly a pleasant and enjoyable read, but there’s an extremely violent and bloody battle toward the end that is rather harrowing.

The ending is odd and a little unsatisfying, and it’s not the most memorable of McKinley’s novels. But when I picked it up again for the first time in a couple of decades to refamiliarize myself with it before writing this review, it was difficult not to get lost in the pages of this book. If you’re interested in the Robin Hood legend, The Outlaws of Sherwood is worth checking out.
Profile Image for Anne.
63 reviews
April 5, 2009
Full disclosure: I like this book a lot, and I think its best points more than outweigh its flaws.

To those disappointed by Robin Hood’s sidelining, I want to point out that McKinley’s title--The Outlaws of Sherwood--should warn you what she’s up to. Robin Hood himself is not her main focus, though he is the key and the center of the plot, and the nucleus of all the relationships of the outlaw band. Traditional interpretations of heroism and heroes don’t interest her, and mythic grandeur only when contrasted with reality: otherwise, why bother to reimagine folk or fairy tales at all; they’re grand enough in original form? Myth-making, in McKinley’s view, is a vital part of human nature. Fleshing out myth with realistic characterization is what makes her stories vibrant and relatable, and all it takes is about the second page or so (“[Robin:] did not hate the fact that he was a second-rate archer…”) for Robin Hood to snap from godlike Mary Sue to complex, layered, interesting person.

She’s explored this tension before and will again--the idealization of storybook heroes contrasted with what would be the gritty reality of practical deed-doing. The Hero and the Crown showed us dragon-killing as grim, thankless vermin disposal, a clear inversion of the most typically heroic deed in Western myth; in The Blue Sword, Harry is consciously molded into a hero as a symbol she feels she can’t live up to. All of McKinley’s heroes are reluctant, uncertain, forced to step up to the plate by circumstance and character rather than high-minded inclination--they perform heroic deeds because there is no other option, not because they’re bold, noble, pure, or powerful. Like Ursula LeGuin’s Sparrowhawk, they spend their lives learning to decide to do what they must do.

She’s never before been so explicit about what she’s doing, either. There’s practically not a character in the book who doesn’t overtly refer to the act of myth creation and its contrast with the facts of their narrative. Friar Tuck tells us “tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are.” Marian consciously constructs a legend of superhuman archer Robin Hood; the common folk of Nottingham have their own tales and stories of a fairy ‘Old One’ Robin Hood, savior of the Saxons; the outlaws themselves add some gloss to their versions when drinking with town girlfriends; and robbed nobles exaggerate the shocking deeds of the outlaws, or are implied to be doing so. Finally, in the afterword, if you somehow missed it, she lays it out in her own voice and tells us how and why she manipulated the Robin Hood legend the way she did. This is a story about stories, a story about the impact of stories. The next time you read it, dig for quotes about stories, tales, myths, and you’ll find them everywhere.

McKinley’s skill lies in burying this theme in a great story that stays interesting, in part because the third-person narrative POV jumps around and you don’t spend too much time in any one character’s head. Plot and character-wise, she fleshes out most generally agreed-upon elements of the Robin Hood myth--longbow archery, Sherwood Forest, robbing the rich to give to the poor, the quarterstaff meeting with Little John, the ragtag fugitives’ motley characters (seriously, didn’t we all wonder what a minstrel was doing in a forest?)--all are given plausibility, grounding, wit, motivation, and real character. I suspect that a lot of us double-X-chromosome folks are drawn to this book because she added some women to the traditional Robin Hood sausagefest, and realistic women at that. It’s difficult to tell how anachronistic they might be, since there aren’t a lot of records of women’s inner monologues in the 12th century, but at least they aren’t glaringly modern (Anne Perry, your Charlotte Pitt is a huge offender.)

Profile Image for Angie.
645 reviews1,013 followers
October 28, 2013
I have a thing for Robin Hood. Specifically Robin Hood retellings. I love Robin, Marian, Little John, Will Scarlet, Much the Miller, Alan-a-Dale, and the whole merry crew. I read Ivanhoe cover to cover just for Robin Hood's periodic appearances. And when I went on study abroad to England, I dragged my best friend all the way to Nottingham and Sherwood Forest as well so I could walk around in the woods and soak it all up. It's still one of the happiest, most golden days I can recall, that one. My first encounter with the tale itself was no doubt the Disney animated version (which I still love watching with my son), but I'm pretty sure the first actual novelization I read was Robin McKinley's THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD. And it remains my very favorite to this day. Admittedly, I seem to possess the McKinley gene. I love her writing. I love the unexpected, twisty paths she takes, the obstinate characters, and the wry humor. True to form, her Robin is not the typical Robin of legend. If you cherish the strapping, dashing, swashbuckling hero a la Errol Flynn, then this version is probably not for you. But if you like an unusual, but beautifully wrought, take on a classic then you really ought to give this one a shot.

The story opens with the following lines:

A small vagrant breeze came from nowhere and barely flicked the feather tips as the arrow sped on its way. It shivered in its flight, and fell, a little off course--just enough that the arrow missed the slender tree it was aimed at, and struck tiredly and low into the bole of another tree, twenty paces beyond the mark. Robin sighed and dropped his bow.

Robin is on his way to Nottingham Fair to meet his childhood friends Marian and Much and have a bit of well-earned frivolity. As an apprentice forester in the King's Forest, Robin barely scrapes by and his days off are few and far between. Unfortunately, while on his way he is ambushed by a few of the Chief Forester's men who have had it in for Robin for years. No one is more surprised than Robin when he wins the resulting archery contest and the skirmish ends in an attempt on his life and Robin's arrow buried in his attacker's chest. From this point on Robin is a wanted man. His friends convince him to go into hiding while they work up a plan to keep their friend alive and prevent the Norman overlords from raining down punishments on all the Saxons' heads as a result of Robin's "crime." Against his better judgement, Robin goes along with Much and Marian's plan and, in the process, he becomes a hero--albeit a reluctant one.

There is so much good in this book and it all centers around the characters. Either you will fall in love with Robin or you will not. And if you love Robin, then you will love all of the characters for they gather around him despite his adamant refusal that he is no hero because they need him. Marian and Much, his old friends, see this. They understand it and they try to help Robin understand it. Their love for him, their need to believe in him, and their willingness to walk away from their homes and their lives to follow him into hiding in Sherwood Forest reflect the desperate nature of the times and the ways in which this good man is able to inspire and take care of other good men and women like him who have been caught in the ever-tightening vise of Norman justice. I love watching this transformation, this coming together of such a motley band of comrades. Every time I read it I savor each one. And, as with any McKinley book, if you're a fan of strong female characters who do not do what they are expected to do, then this book is for you. Marian is awesome. It's Marian who is the excellent shot. It's Marian who has the vision and who knows Robin's potential before he does. It's Marian who risks more than anyone else to create the legend and keep it alive. There is one other standout female character, but I can't tell you any more than that as she is so excellent she must be discovered entirely on her own. Along with Deerskin, I think this is the most emotional of McKinley's works because it is as grounded in reality as any retelling I've read. THE OUTLAWS OF SHERWOOD is an emotional, subtly humorous, visceral take on the legend and I cannot recommend it highly enough.
Profile Image for Hope.
110 reviews62 followers
May 10, 2011
I’ve been on a bit of a Robin Hood craze for the past month. Having always had a place in my heart for the noble outlaw, my interest in him was rekindled when I stumbled upon the BBC show and fell in love with the story and the characters all over again. Thus, when I started nearing the last episodes of the series, I wasn’t ready to give it up just yet. I got this sort of clingy feeling, like when you were little and you came to the end of a wonderful bedtime story and you just don’t want to go to sleep.

And so, I found The Outlaws of Sherwood. And it did what I wanted, in prolonging the Robin Hood obsession a bit longer.

My main complaint about this story was that there was too much Cecily. Who is this character and why is she so important and what’s so special about her? And most of all, why is she even in this story? I just found her to be really quite flat, over all, and I’d rather have had her “screen time” replaced with Will, Marian, or Much. Because none of those characters got what was due to them. Marian got like, one chapter devoted specifically to her? Was it even that? And I LOVED that chapter. Marian’s perspective was fantastic. I would’ve put more of her in there, if I’d written this. But, alas, I did not.

I kind of liked how Robin wasn’t the best archer in the gang. But actually one of the worst. Probably the worst. Not that he’s bad, by typical standards, but he’s not great. And Robin is always great. I liked the unremarkable-ness of this Robin…but I also missed it a little. I can’t really explain why, but there’s something about the Robin Hood who never misses a target and is the best at all the cool stuff that I’m just a bit attached to. Still, I can’t complain. He was realistic, and he was still awesome. He still had that incredible leadership thing going on, which is the essence of Robin Hood anyways. One description in the book which I found most fitting went thus: “But there was something—the way the man caught the eye for no reason; the something Robin had.”

There wasn’t a lot of dwelling on the romance between Robin and Marian, but the little glimpses of it were absolutely adorable and maybe more so because of how little there was shown between them. They remain at the top or very near the top of my list of favorite fictional couples.

There’s not really a whole lot to say about the book in particular, but more about the Robin Hood legend in general. Because I’ve felt like researching, and I’ve felt like pondering, and I’ve been wondering incessantly what it is that people of all ages find so memorable and so endearing about the tale. What it is that I myself find so endearing about the tale.

My thoughts are scattered, but the conclusion I’ve come to is that people need a hero. We need to believe that a human being is capable of selflessly giving up his livelihood, whether of his free will or not, to serve and help the less-fortunate.

Robin Hood’s actual existence is rather vague. I’d like to believe that he lived, that he was real, because there’s something romantic about it all for me. But then, he might have just been an idea. A hopeful, idealistic idea that is still alive and well today even though it doesn’t take the form of ballads and epic poems.
“Robinhood” became a general name for bandits in the 1300s, apparently. But it had to start somewhere. I don’t think we’ll ever know for sure whether he was real or not, and I think I like it best that way. Because there’s this mysterious, magical feel that surrounds the legend. Hood has been exaggerated, he might have been a horrible person in reality with nothing noble about him. And that’s exactly, I think, why I’d prefer not to know entirely who he was or was not.

The ending of this novel, in my opinion, was not satisfactory. But it's enjoyable over all, with its fun as well as its serious moments. And it's definitely worth a read. :)
Profile Image for Mir.
4,867 reviews5,033 followers
January 12, 2023
McKinley explores the circumstances that might have led to the formation of an outlaw community in Sherwood and the growth of the Robin Hood legend. She contrasts Robin's practical concerns (not being arrested and executed, taking care of his followers when they decide to live in the woods) with the more abstract political ideals of those who want to make him a symbol of Saxon resistance. McKinley's Robin is not a great archer or a brilliant strategist, but he is an inspiring leader.

This was a great idea, but there were some serious weaknesses in the execution.

First, the political discussions. I'm sorry, I just don't believe medieval peasants talked like this, especially when they had accidentally killed someone hours before and were urgently trying to escape. Much, especially, sounds more like someone giving responses on a political talk show than someone talking about real life with friends.

The second problem -- and this won't surprise prior readers of McKinley ([cough:]Spindle's End[cough:]) -- was point of view. For the first two thirds of the book, the pov is Robin's. Then suddenly we have a brief shift to Marian at her father's castle. Then in the last few chapters we are seeing from the point of view of Cecily, Will Scarlet's little sister.

And that's third -- Cecily. She was fine as a character, but I didn't see any reason to make up an additional character when there were so many already to choose from that I could hardly keep them straight. If McKinley had wanted to add a character to to serve as narrator throughout the story, that would have made sense, but why invent one who isn't really important until fairly late in the book? If the author wanted more female perspective she could have used Marian, who really doesn't get as much page time as the character seems to deserve. And Cecily's romance was weak; you know, authors, it is okay to have a female character who doesn't fall in love with anyone. Really it is.

Lastly, I did not find the ending very satisfactory. I don't think there is a good way to "end" Robin Hood. That's why the tales are so episodic and their timeline so unclear. Robin Hood's story has a vague beginning and an even fuzzier termination; the important part is the adventures in the wood (which is as much the Forest Eternal as Sherwood), the series of jokes, tricks, and thefts against oppressive enemies, rescuing comrades from danger... Is there really a believable happy ending for a bunch of outlaws living in the wild? Not really. McKinley wants the story to be short and delineated -- a couple years in Sherwood, a couple minor victories against the Sheriff, a major battle, The End. And that's not the right feel for a story with an epic cycle. I realize that is McKinley's point. Yeah, the outlaws probably would have been lucky to make it two years before getting caught. It just was kind of a let down.

If you're a McKinley completist or fan of Robin Hood adaptations by all means pick this up. It was not unenjoyable, the flaws were just a bit too glaring for me to love it.
Profile Image for Nicole.
Author 5 books41 followers
December 6, 2015
I finished this book with a wistful feeling, thinking it was beautiful despite the violence, suffering and loss. McKinley captures the essence of the Robin Hood legend with lyrical descriptions and good characterisation. The style of the telling is reminiscent of a tale of long ago--with a few anachronistic turns of phrase. The author even gets away with some drifting points of view because of that old-tale quality.
The story of Robin Hood captured my heart when I was very young, and Robin has long been one of my favourite characters. McKinley talks in her afterword about how the story has changed over time to suit the desires and needs of the audience, and I’ve heard this concept applied to other stories. While I have seen some versions of the Robin Hood story I like more than others, none fully capture my idea of how it should be. But this one is definitely one of the better ones. To me, there should be a magical quality to the story without there being any actual magic--I guess that’s the legendary element, the idea of humans doing extraordinary things. McKinley does a good job contrasting the reality of the outlaws’ lives and deeds with the tales that are being told by the villagers about them.
I’m a conflicted idealist--I love seeing characters do heroic things, but I also like seeing characters with realistic flaws or weaknesses. In this case, Robin is not the best archer of the group. The incident that starts him down the outlaw road involves a stroke of luck (both bad and good), and his friends nudge him into his role in Sherwood. Robin is not devil-may-care but instead takes his responsibilities as a leader very seriously.
His friends Much and Will are more impulsive and sarcastic. Little John is complex. Friar Tuck has a bit of an edge. I liked them all very much.
This version of the story makes female characters more central to the action, and I enjoyed seeing that. Marian plays a dangerous game living a double life. I also liked how she, Robin, Much and Will had grown up together. The romantic element between Robin and Marian is subtle and sweet, the tricky business of a friendship turning into romantic love, made more complicated by Robin’s conflicted sense of honour--he wants to send her away for her own safety but doesn’t want to be without her.
The outlaws don’t come through their adventures unscathed, which is sad but realistic. The ending felt a little abrupt, but I suppose it makes sense. While I would’ve wished (in my silly, girlish way) for a somewhat more fairy tale ending, King Richard’s punishment/reward for Robin and company is logical and more realistic than many outcomes. At least it allows me to imagine that they did eventually all make it back home again intact.
Profile Image for Meg Sherman.
169 reviews436 followers
August 27, 2013
The first half of this book is a weak 2 stars - but it picks up to 4+ after that point, so rating it is really confusing. One thing's for sure, though - Robin Hood is the LEAST interesting character. Not to mention the worst archer in the group. Which is easily one of my favorite parts about it.

To me, the book demonstrates the reality of a legend like Robin. Most iconic characters in both history and fiction owe their legendary status to timing, luck, and a bunch of awesome friends.

This novel is obviously written by a woman, because even the truly awesome male characters are saved by women at one point or another. Maid Marian is certainly three-quarters of the way up the cool-o-meter - but Cecily is tops for me!

Basically, pick this book up about halfway through (right around the archery contest) and you'll thank me. Up until that point it's mostly the day-to-day drudgery of trying to live in a forest... with Robin generally being a fuddy-duddy and worrying over his people like an old woman.

And PLEASE - if you want to read a Robin McKinley - pick up The Blue Sword! It's GOLDEN.

P.S. When did Friar Tuck get so cool???


Let us not gallop to meet future difficulties. A walking pace is enough. (Robin)

I have often been wrong, and whilst the training of the church has taught me to admit it, somehow I have never learnt not to be wrong in the first place. (Tuck)

I knew your father. A good man, as many say – not all, for if all called him good it would not be the truth. (Tuck to Robin)

It was common knowledge when I was a forester that I could hit the broad side of a barn only if it wasn’t walking away too quickly. (Robin)

It is her misfortune not to be stupid, and so her hatred is difficult for her. It twists in her hands and bites her. (Rita on Beatrix)

Tales are as much the necessary fabric of our lives as our bodies are. (Tuck)

Any lone man who can, with little more than stubbornness and a few ragged friends, set so much of my aristocracy in a rage, is a man I wish to put to my purposes. (King Richard)

Profile Image for Suzanne.
1,647 reviews
July 15, 2017
A nice telling of Robin Hood that sticks pretty close to the classic version. However, Marian gets more of a role, and she is a great character!
Profile Image for colleen the convivial curmudgeon.
1,155 reviews296 followers
September 11, 2016

McKinley introduces us to a Robin who is a young man - unspecified, but I'm thinking 17ish - who becomes a reluctant outlaw after he accidentally kills someone in self defense. He is basically prodded into becoming the leader of a band of people by his two best friends, Marian and Much. And he's not a great archer. He's actually the worst archer of the lot - though that doesn't stop him from introducing the longbow to the people of Sherwood...

Robin is not the hero of legend. He's mostly a worry-wart and rather boring.

But this story still fits in the major moments of the legends, but Marian takes the place of the great archer of the group. Which is cool, in a way, but Robin was just so boring.

But, honestly, most of this story was boring. (I had said to a group that I'm in that this was the most boring Robin Hood story I've ever read... but then I was reminded of Hood by Stephen R. Lawhead, and at least I managed to finish this book, which is more than I could say for 'Hood'.)

Several of the reviews mention that it picks up after the archery contest, which is true. But this takes place, like, 70% into the story - which is far too long waiting for something interesting to happen in a freaking Robin Hood story.

Since most of the story is from the perspective of the outlaws, switching a bit through Robin, Marian, Little John and Cecil, we don't really see much about what happens outside their borders, except in snippets we get told.

And that's a big part of the problem with the writing of this story. We're constantly told things instead of shown them. It's like 'Robin & Co spent a mild winter, where this one thing happened that wasn't that big of a deal, and then it was spring.'

We don't get much tension in the build up between Robin and the Sheriff. And Guy sort of enters, becomes interesting for awhile, and then leaves again.

And then that ending. After slowing down again after the archery contest things seem to be heading for a big climactic finale - only for

And then everyone gets sent Seriously, that's how this thing ends.

Anyway - this is my second McKinley book, and while the first was more enjoyable, it still had issues with telling over showing, and long parts of boredom followed by some interesting stuff... so, honestly, I think I'm done trying her out as an author.
Profile Image for Duckie.
101 reviews63 followers
July 24, 2015
It’s impressive the power a symbol can carry. Case in point: for a brief spate about three or four years ago, I was working in Beijing, which is noted for (among other things) its affection for foreign brands and its creative interpretation of copyright law. Near my apartment lay a popular clothing store called "Robin Hood, Ltd.," which offered a shirt emblazoned with their own logo design and the motto, "Be yourself." This shirt was so ubiquitous that I would sometimes step out of the apartment into a crowded street and find myself enveloped in a double layer of irony: first, because if everyone's wearing it, then how original is it? And second, since the shirts were all knockoffs, they’re not even themselves original. China, y’all!

It's not unusual for a store in China to attract an adoring fan base with the perceived exoticness of some foreign imagery (regardless of its veracity); indeed, this is hardly unique to the Chinese. It says something about the power of symbols, however, that the Robin Hood name could carry a connotation powerful enough to inspire attraction in a culture that already has its own Robin Hood-like mythos.

In The Outlaws of Sherwood, Robin McKinley takes her signature approach to unravel the story and characters behind the Robin Hood legend. She stresses the importance of stories and how they can evolve depending on the needs of certain times and situations. She particularly emphasizes what those stories can mean for those with limited choices, and how they can offer a sense of escape or freedom. Robin and Little John form the crux of the growing legend, yet their lack of alternatives, since they have each killed a man and can no longer return to society, are posed in contrast to those who are turned away from the band because they have other options:

He still could not quite believe that anyone would willingly throw over a living, however meager, to live as an outlaw. "Ah, but Robin, that's just it: we /are/ choosing," said Much when Robin admitted a little of this to him..."None of us wakes in the night speaking the name of the man he killed by accident. " (34)

Ms. McKinley also carefully traces the arc of the legend as it grows, and carves out the spaces where it begins to move beyond its human sources:

If Robin Hood had not gathered a band of outlaws around him, the tale-tellers would have had to invent one for him. But the band did exist, and none of its members was taken either... and this, too, improved in the retelling. (36)

"Have you asked Robin Hood who he is?"
Cecily said, puzzled, watching Tuck's deft hands, "No. I would not."
"Have you asked yourself who he is?"
Cecily said slowly, "He -- he is our leader."
"The leader of a band of outlaws," said Friar Tuck, "who live leanly in Sherwood. And did you hear the folk today talk of this Robin Hood whom they saw shooting his arrows into the target better than anyone else?"
"They spoke of him -- as if he were not human," Cecily said..." (206)

Ms. McKinley also brings out the human weaknesses behind the characters in these stories. Robin's fits of temper, for example, or Tuck's failure of will in the face of a threat to his beloved dogs, offer a depth not often explored in other Robin Hood pastiches.

Despite these elements, there are other areas where the novel stumbles. Ms. McKinley's choice of highly stylized language to tell the story is a sizeable risk; it's clear why this was done, but it’s a bit like watching the action through a stained-glass window. As far as the novel goes, this will make it or break it for most readers -- either the language works for them or it doesn’t. The love stories, moreover, feel forced, as if Ms. McKinley were setting them up to make a point without considering if they worked for the characters. At least they're part of the B-plot and can be easily skimmed.

I suppose it means something, as well, that I never figured out if there really was a Robin Hood, Ltd. brand based in England. It's entirely possible that the store, and their much-admired logo, were both offshoots of a Chinese company that only sought to appear foreign. The logo design itself could have been pilfered from a foreign apparel company; the store was, after all, across the street from a fake Chipotle's. Such is the power of symbols.
Profile Image for Elizabeth.
430 reviews37 followers
June 15, 2023
I randomly reread this one because I found myself at a loss to describe the plot. (Are there too many Robin Hood film/book adaptations? They all blend together in my mind...) And having reread it, I can understand why - it's not very memorable on a character standpoint, and the plot doesn't do much to deviate from the traditional "rob the rich, give to the poor" storyline. Not to mention it's a bit gory (which I usually do my best to forget immediately, as I have an Imagination).

Robin is a fun character, but the romance was somewhat lacking in credibility. As someone who is mediocre in most of her ventures, excluding reading, I loved that he wasn't as good at archery as some of the others. The side characters here really steal the show - it's too bad they're not more prominent. Much and Will Scarlet, for example, have such witty personalities which I would have loved to see more of.

To return to the plot - this book is really about the outlaws of Sherwood, and not just Robin Hood. He's an important character, but as I said, the side characters are also great. This book is somewhat philosophical in nature, since the band of outlaws attempts to build their own community in Sherwood Forest. It makes no claims at utopianism, or even democracy, but the practicalities of such a venture are never far from Robin's mind. (Or mine, as the reader!) So... is the plot about building that community? Not exactly. It's about justice, and yes, about building Greentree, but also about class, and mastery, and leading, and so much more. And somehow it does work.

The climax of The Outlaws of Sherwood is the most gripping part of the book (and it's a good chunk of it, too!). But the resolve is somewhat lackluster. King Richard enacts a mediocre Deus ex Machina and McKinley's authorial decisions are not what I would have done, in her place. (But also, I could not have written a novel nearly as excellent as this, so my opinions as to the ending are not worth describing.) However, it is satisfying enough.

All in all, this is a decent retelling. Not McKinley's best work, but not her worst. And I'm afraid that I hold her to a higher standard than most authors, because of her exceptional talent. If you enjoy Robin Hood retellings/reimaginings, I'd recommend it, or if you are a big fan of McKinley's fantasy, but otherwise - it may not be for you.

For further information, aside from my original thoughts below, I'd suggest my GR friend Amy's excellent review: https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...

Old Review: When I saw that Robin McKinley had written a retelling of the legend of Robin Hood, I was skeptical, to say the least. In most of the original stories, Robin is actually a bad guy, so I've been rather spoiled for any retellings. But this one... this one was pretty good.
It didn't solely focus on Robin Hood, for one - it was told in an omniscient third-person style, so it was easy to focus on the different aspects of this story. Like Marian - she was awesome. And Little John, and Cecil, Marjorie and Alan (did I mention that Alan was funny and awesome? I love what the author did with him). [I'm cringing very hard at that description... I wrote it almost exactly two years ago, what can I say? I wouldn't exactly describe his character as awesome, though it was somewhat funny?]
Also, it was a great example of Robin McKinley's beautiful, lyrical prose. She writes long, wonderful sentences (which often can be difficult to grasp) but which are striking. AND the sarcastic humor in The Outlaws of Sherwood is awesome. It made me laugh quite a bit, and I love books that do that.
I did notice that it was a little less clean than the two other novels I've read by this author (Beauty and Rose Daughter). There was quite a bit of romance and violence, especially towards the end, so I'd recommend this to 12/13+ readers.
All in all, this was a beautiful read and an excellent Robin Hood retelling, taking some historical inaccuracies into account. (Read the author's note/afterword and you'll see what I mean.) The characters were well developed and human - a must-have, in my opinion - and the theme was encouraging and sweet.
Recommended to all fans of Robin McKinley's fairy tale retellings and fans of Robin Hood.
Profile Image for Emily.
706 reviews2,045 followers
November 17, 2017
This retelling of Robin Hood tries to ground itself in the realities of life in early medieval England, which makes this interesting but only semi-enjoyable. Robin is pessimistic about the bandits' chances from the start, and there's the understanding that they can't last forever. This gives the book an odd tone. It's sometimes lighthearted and humorous, poking fun at the more ridiculous elements of the legend, but then will take a sharp turn into darker sections where everyone is cold and hungry in the woods, unsure of their fate. And it has the most ridiculous ending I've ever read.

What I was most struck by on this reread is how uneven Robin is as a character. I really liked how McKinley turned some of the most routine pieces of the tale on their head , but she also keeps some of the elements that don't line up with her interpretation: I never bought Robin as an inspiring leader. The best characters in the book are in the supporting cast, especially Little John and Cecily.

This is interesting as an addition to the Robin Hood canon, but isn't my favorite rendition.
Profile Image for Natalie.
152 reviews
June 30, 2017
The writing is superb. I love this telling of the story, and how the characters are portrayed. They have a slight modern feel without being obnoxious or out of place (I could easily picture the cast from BBC's Robin Hood. In fact, I suspect the creators of the show read this book for inspiration, for there are some suspicious parallels. ;)) All the Robin and Marian scenes were adorable and made my heart happy. <3 I liked how Robin was almost a different character in this. He wasn't the best archer. He wasn't a lover of high adventure and glory. He just wanted to protect his friends.
The ending pleased me. It left me with hope and semi happiness. (Not depression, like the BBC show, haha. )
Profile Image for Gail Carriger.
Author 55 books15k followers
October 1, 2018
A serious and emotionally crippling take on the Robin Hood myth. Despite the fact that the vast limestone caves below Nottingham yet again make no appearance (why are the Robin Hood myths so lax on this count?) this is my favorite retelling. And yes, I include the various TV series in this statement ~ even Richard Armitage.

McKinley’s characters are wonderful (Little John’s romantic thread is the bestest). Her final tree-borne battle scene is genius and brutally sad.

It’s been well over a decade since I read this book, partly because of its darkness, but I’m thinking of sticking this under-appreciated gem on the reread list for my book group.
Profile Image for Becca.
437 reviews18 followers
July 27, 2019
This book is not perfect. Oddly enough, whenever I try to list the imperfections, I can't think of any. I can only think of all the thinks I liked. This includes, but is not limited to:

1) the humor
Are you not Robin Hood, who introduced the longbow to Sherwood, that all the Normans now go in fear of his reach?
I am he they call Robin Hood. I am also calmly eating venison and would recommend you do likewise. [p.104]
It's hard to look too grand when you're lead by someone who looks like a pudding with legs. [p. 254]

2) the characters -- especially Much and Cecil because they contributed a great deal to the humor. Tuck (a friar) is relatable to me because he struggles with motives and whether the ends can ever justify the means. I expected Marjory to be the typical whiny, spoiled lady forced into the midst of a band of outlaws for reasons kind of beyond her control(I can't believe I just called that typical.). Spoiler: she's not. I haven't even mentioned Robin or Little John or Will or Marion... Obviously there are a lot of characters to keep straight, but they all have unique personalities and backstories.

3) the writing style -- it's elegant without being flowery

I'm glad Robin McKinley has written so many books.😀
Profile Image for Emily Joy.
131 reviews26 followers
April 4, 2022
(03/2022) Updated and edited review available on my Robin Hood blog

This book has grown in my esteem since the very first time I read it, to the second time I read it, and finally today when I have read it for a third time and found it extremely satisfying. I greatly enjoy what I call a "straight retelling" which is a contemporary novelization of the standardized version of the Robin Hood story that doesn't try to twist it into a different perspective or make it gritty and dark. The main characters are who you expect them to be, doing the things you expect them to be doing. This book ticks all the boxes, and is funny to boot. When someone asks for an approachable introduction to the story of Robin Hood, but aren't really looking for a classic, I have long recommended this one, and I'll be pleased to continue recommending this one.

(Note: I honestly loved this book, and simply had too many opinions about the ending, stated below. Please don't let my strong opinions about a singular chapter deter you from reading this book!)

I think I would have happily given this book five stars if but for the ending, which I found extremely dissatisfying. The image "good King Richard" is not one I particularly enjoy or particularly dislike. As with any "straight retellings", King Richard's appearance at the end is what I anticipated and knew would happen. Somehow, I could not remember what the king decides to do with the outlaws at the end of this novel, and I kept thinking, "No, I don't think they'll agree to this. No, they won't actually all go on crusade with the king."

And then they did. I understand how this can work within the context of pulling from various Robin Hood tales, but in this particular book I just don't buy it. Not one character liked King Richard, and seemed to mostly tolerate him with no great respect for him. The whole book made this quite clear. So I really just didn't buy the whole group of them joining the crusade at the request of the king, when none of them even wants to go. But I guess they're willing to take their comeuppance and be grateful?? Color me confused. I'm not sure if this memory comes from a different story, but I was half convinced for the entirety of the final chapter that they would run off to Barnesdale and make a new home in a new forest. Alas, on the final page, they all raised goblets of wine in a toast to the king and it kind of ruined the book.

My rating would have been five stars without the last chapter. And I'm going to choose to believe that they left for Barnesdale, and didn't go unwillingly into a war for king and country because they felt they had no other choice. These characters proved to be practical and capable throughout the story, and I don't think they'd agree to a war they didn't believe in just because the king asked them to. Literally what makes King Richard the exception to the rule when it comes to defying authority?
Profile Image for Avrelia.
69 reviews6 followers
August 15, 2010
I was reading Robin McKinley’s Sherwood Outlaws and started thinking what the legend means to me.

I couldn't get into the book – even though I like the characters (this incarnations of them) and the writing, they seem to be behind a glass wall that I couldn't break, and didn’t want to. I cannot start to care – and this feels to be of crucial importance in fiction for me lately. I don’t have to like everybody and everything in a book, but at least something must pull me into – even if it is a description of a sea, or beautiful style, or fancy ideas. Here it was nothing of the sort, and the only thing that elicit emotions was the marginalia on a page splattered with something brownish: “It is blood. Don’t lick it”.

I thought that may be the case is in the legend itself? That I grew disenchanted with Robin Hood and his merry band? I used to love the story and its heroes and heroines. Somewhere in the back of my mind I was always sure about the continuous existence of Robin Hood, Marion, Little John, Will Scarlet, Friar Tuck, Sheriff of Nottingham, Guy of Gizborne and others in the Sherwood forest and around. They add something to the world, some important tiny bit.

Why not to read a novel about them? I cannot say that the interpretation is too contrary to what I imagine – or any other interpretation, because I just don’t really imagine them at all. I have a vague picture that changes when I change or when my mood change. Robin can be young or grown man, blond or black-haired, bearded or not, asshole or sweetie or both, of gentle birth or of common, just a robber or an idealist – none of it ever sits in stone. Same with Marion (though I like her more when she is not a damsel in distress) and everyone else. I probably have a more definite image of Friar Tuck – he is short and round, good with his staff, optimistic, and the only monastic vow he takes seriously is the one of poverty.

But maybe that was the reason – I prefer my vague image to the detailed and rooted in the time and place version. Plus I always get annoyed when Richard the Lionheart came and resolved the matter. Because he would never do that. But I got even more annoyed when he took all the band with him to Holy Land – even though that's what he would definitely do. But Robin Hood cannot be outside of England! There mere idea of it destroys the Universe as we know it.
Profile Image for Minh.
1,235 reviews29 followers
July 8, 2010
I am a sucker for Robin Hood. Off the top of my head I can remember at least 3 versions of Robin Hood that I've read (not all loved). Robin Hood is the book that I remember the most when I think back to my primary school reading days, and I was super excited (and eventually super disappointed) for the new BBC incarnation of my favourite protagonist. I picked up Outlaws because of a yuletide story that I put to the sidelines, not wanting to spoil myself for yet another version of the Hooded Man.

Without a doubt my sentimental favourite for Robin Hood is the novelisation of the old TV series, Robin of Sherwood. I searched for that ominbus for YEARS. I had a search saved on ebay for it, scoured the 2nd hand search engines, looked in every library! Finally, finally I found it, of all places... In a 2nd hand bookstore at Milson's Point for $5. :D And if I hadn't turned around at the right time I would have missed it. Yes. I do believe it was Fate.

Outlaws of Sherwood! For some reason I have this categorised as a Children's Novel. I'm not particularly sure it is a children's novel but I enjoyed the spin that Robin McKinley put on this incarnation of Robin Hood. For one, he's a crap shot and readily acknowledges that a test to become one of his men, is to be better than the leader with the bow and arrow. The Marion of Outlaws is very similiar to the BBC Marion, stubborn, outspoken, yet still living at home, rebelling quietly under the farce of unassuming daughter. Will Scarlet is actually a nobelman, who takes his name from the scarlet cloths he loves to wear. Much is one of Marion and Robin's childhood friends and Little John is as always, not so little.

All the old favourites come out to play, Guy of Gisborne becomes an assassin! And yes, King Richard the Lion Heart appears. I enjoyed the novel as it portrayed Robin as a normal man, stripping away some of the myth factor that you see in so many other Robin novels. Robin is just a boy really, who somehow ends up being the figurehead of the rebellion, not all powerful by any means, not even a good shot. But a great story.
Profile Image for Deborah Pickstone.
852 reviews91 followers
September 24, 2016
One of the better versions of the legend of Robin Hood. I have no idea why this is designated as YA, that seems fairly pointless; perhaps because the author writes fantasy - to my disappointment there is no more from her in this vein.

Set in the reign of Richard 'Lionheart', as the legend often is - yet this is a most unlikely time for the birth of this legend if only because Richard spent as little as 8 weeks in total in England in the course of a 10 year reign. I also think his attempt to elevate Marian to a definite fantasy element! The 'punishment' he handed out to the outlaws was believable - and a harsh one too, likely to have ended in all of their deaths. Despite historical howlers this was a very good read and bettered in the Robin Hood subject only by The Arrow of Sherwood in my reading.

Personally, I believe Robin Hood originates from the catastrophic defeat of Simon de Montfort at Evesham when fugitives were known to have fled into the Fens and into Sherwood. Anyone subscribing to de Montfort's moral chivalric code might well have proceeded to 'rob the rich and give to the poor'. And there would have been no way back with Edward I on the throne.
419 reviews38 followers
June 10, 2010
Previously, I had read McKinley's retelling of Beauty and the Beast. So, I started her Robin Hood novel expecting a good tale--and I was NOT disappointed!

Yes, we all know the story--Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck and the whole cast. In her epilogue, Robin McKinley notes she has read over twenty Robin Hood novels. Her own adaptation of this well know tale is nicely done.

She has an enjoyable writing style, and gives some background to many of the characters. She points out some of the problems the outlaws would have had to cope with--something I have seldom seen. Her Robin is fallible; worries about his men and still comes off quite heroic. Maid Marian is also well done--this lady gets into the action and is not just a damsel in distress to be rescued.

A good adaptation of a familiar tale; expanded to novel size length. If you like Robin Hood at all, try this one and you will not regret it.
Profile Image for D. B. Guin.
842 reviews75 followers
March 21, 2020
This book is a mix, but I feel compelled to endorse it.

I am not easily bored by slow-moving stories, but twice now I have picked this book up to read and had the powerful urge to put it down again only a few chapters in. I also love Robin McKinley, so I am no stranger to her thoughtfulness and formality. Almost until three-fourths of the way through, I was still reading by deliberate choice, not by desire. However, I still gave this story four stars, and here's why:
• The satisfying ending. How hard is it to end a Robin Hood story in a way that's not horribly sad, OR blatantly, ridiculously unrealistic? Very hard. This still falls on the "unrealistic" spectrum but it's probably still the deftest tie-up I've ever seen done, balancing consequences of outlawry with the fact that Robin is the hero of the story and narrative demands a better ending than death or prison.

• The banter between all the members of the band, especially Much and Will. For a story in which there are so many outlaws, the main ones still have great characterization and come to life well. I like their different personalities, especially Robin and Much, who are polar opposites.

• The detailed attention paid to their life in Sherwood. Lots of Robin Hood stories seem to go "and they went to live in the woods!" without seeming to really consider what such a life would consist of. McKinley writes about their life in the forest in a way that makes you think they could have actually done it.

• The Cecil story! This is an original thing I haven't seen in any other Robin Hood book and, though the "twist" is not surprising, it doesn't need to be surprising in order to be enjoyable.

• The subversion. The inclusion of women in general, and specifically the prominence of Maid Marian as the "actual" Robin Hood who does the feats of archery that are most famous. I love that Robin is a bad shot, and an accidental outlaw who is against outlawry in general, but still unquestionably the leader of the band.
Profile Image for Maya Joelle.
Author 1 book93 followers
July 22, 2023
This was a very nostalgic read for me, even though I haven't ever read it before; Robin Hood retellings were a big part of my childhood and McKinley's other books (particularly The Blue Sword and Chalice) are some of my favorite fantasies. So I really enjoyed listening to this story.

It ultimately didn't feel particularly distinctive, neither distinctly McKinley nor particularly distinguishable from any other Robin Hood retelling. There were a few clever twists (I knew enough to suspect generally where the story would end, but some secret identities and also a war in Palestine really surprised me), and I appreciated the way that the story is really about all the characters, not just Robin and Marian. Some of them do get a bit sidelined and I would have liked, perhaps, a few more chapters of closure here and there. Or an epilogue. Also, it all took place in less than two years which was a little weird.

This was a fun and interesting story. If you like McKinley and/or Robin Hood, it's probably worth a try.

I agree with a lot of what Elizabeth (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) and Amy (https://www.goodreads.com/review/show...) had to say about this book.
Profile Image for Rachel Lee.
15 reviews8 followers
March 27, 2008
Title: The Outlaws of Sherwood
Author: Robin McKinley
Publisher: Ace Books Year:1988
# of pages:278 Genre: Fiction
Reading level Interest level: 11-12 Grade
Potential hot lava: Violence

General response/reaction: I had to make myself sit down and read this novel. I picked it up at least four times before I actually read it. I found it really hard to get into and very slow paced. The plot seemed to creep along and so many characters were being introduced it was really difficult to keep them straight. I thought the characters were pretty flat, with the exception of Marian and Cecil. I thought that they were both strong and independent characters. My favorite male character was Little Jon because he was so vulnerable and that’s not really how you picture him in your mind by his description. I thought the book could have been better organized. I had a really hard time following the storyline and keeping my attention. I think that some students will really like this book, but the more timid and reluctant readers will have a harder time with it. I feel as if it wouldn’t keep their interest long enough to finish it.

Subjects, Themes, and Big Ideas:
Good guys vs Bad guys
Consequences of actions

Robin Hood- the main outlaw who all the others rally with. He has to deal with his legacy and need to want to help others, but feel he is unable to at first because he killed a man.

Little Jon- a large man who is quite vulnerable and simple in a lot of ways. He is loyal to the outlaws and often much wiser than people give him credit

Marian- daughter of a proper gentleman who is runs with the outlaws. She is Robin’s love interest and is very independent and determined to help the group. She’s often the messenger because people less expect her to be amongst the outlaws.

Cecil/Cecily- a small member of the outlaws. She disguises herself as a man in hopes to escape her father’s future for her. She is Little Jon’s sidekick. Once she reveals herself as Will’s sister, she becomes more to Little Jon than his right-hand man. She is very strong for her tiny frame and perhaps the most courageous out of all the outlaws

Friar Tuck- the doctor and confidant of the outlaws. He often helps treat their battle wounds and protects their secret

Guy of Gisbourne- the antagonist of the book. He is one of the sheriff’s men who wants to see the outlaws brought to justice.

The Sheriff- antagonists who despises Robin Hood and his outlaws. His main goal is to bring Robin down.

Sir Richard- friend of the king. He helps Robin Hood with the outlaws are weak and listens to their reasoning.

The King- returns from the Crusades and has to give punishments/orders to the outlaws in response to the recent events. He is fair and willing to give choices to some of the outlaws.

Plot summary: Robin is in the forest when he accidentally kills Tom Moody. He is ashamed of what he’s done and needs to go into hiding alone. However, his friends, Much and Marian decide that they are going to help Robin hide and somewhat cut him off from what is going on in the world. Marian is going to be the messenger and tell the men what news she hears when she is in town. Since Robin Hood is known for helping the poor, he wants to continue helping, so as they stay hiding in the forest he gathers up men that will help fight against the sheriff and his high taxes. His outlaws grow into a 12 main people, who all seem to have complications of their own. He befriends Little Jon in the forest after a confrontation, which becomes one of the most loved members of the outlaws with Cecil at his side. Robin and Marian have their lovers’ tiffs and Marian goes away for some time. The climax of the story is when Marian enters an archery contest (the sheriff puts together because he is certain Robin will show up) and wins. After winning the contest she is stabbed by Guy of Gisbourne and is severely wounded. This creates havoc among the outlaws and especially Robin who wants revenge. He then gets in a confrontation at the Friar’s with Guy of Gisbourne. Many of his men are injured and killed and Cecil (now known as Cecily) kills Guy of Gisbourne when he is about to kill Robin. They bury their dead and Sir Richard comes to help asking why he didn’t ask for his services. Marian gets better and Cecily and Little Jon proclaim their love for each other. When they are staying with Sir Richard, the king returns and everyone is wanting to know how Robin and his outlaws will be punished for their actions against the king’s men. Some are given options of helping in the kitchen and being a recorder, while others must return South and fight for him in the crusades. He makes Robin the heir of Sir Richard and says that he can marry Marian.

Strengths (including reviews and awards):
“McKinley has created a world and a character that the reader is not likely to forget.”—English Journal

“Extraordinary fine fantasy..spellbinding…a spectacular read!”—News and Observer, Raleigh, N.C.

Drawbacks or other cautions: Violence

Teaching ideas:
I think it would be really interesting to have the students keep a journal as they read the story about whether or not they can predict what is going to happen next.
Budding Film maker would be a fun assignment
-Have students write a newspaper article for the conclusion of the book. How would the headline read and what would be in the article that follows
- Interview with Cecily/Little Jon or Robin/Marian
- Create a WANTED poster for the Outlaws of Sherwood
- Compare and Contrast Cecily and Marian or Little Jon and Robin Hood
- Write a Journal entry answering who they believe is the strongest character in the novel. Is it Robin, Marian, Little Jon, Cecily?
- Newspaper article about the events that happened at the Archery contest
- Watch a typical Robin Hood story and have the students compare it to the novel
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
134 reviews
April 5, 2011
I have to say, I was rather disappointed by The Outlaws of Sherwood by Robin McKinley. Once started, it wasn't bad enough to not finish, but it left much to be desired and the ending was entirely unsatisfactory.

Profile Image for Natalie.
280 reviews593 followers
April 5, 2012
In a Sentence: The Outlaws of Sherwood was a charming re-telling of an age-old legend.

My Thoughts

I think there's a part of me that will always love old stories and legends. Because these stories and their various mythologies have always been of interest to me, I love coming across re-tellings in which the author puts his or her own creative spin on things. That, combined with my growing affection for the BBC's Robin Hood television series and my good experiences with Robin McKinley in the past led me to picking up The Outlaws of Sherwood.

The Outlaws of Sherwood took me a little while to read, mainly because the writing and storytelling has that high fantasy feel that I tend to enjoy more in smaller chunks. Though this book fits more nicely into the historical fiction genre, McKinley's writing style reflects her experience with high fantasy. While I personally enjoyed her fluid and elevated prose, this might be a put-off for some people who are not as fond of this particular style of writing. However, if you happen to be one of these people, I wouldn't let this aspect alone be the deal-breaker to you picking up this book, because I also think the writing is extremely easy to read and makes for a well-constructed story overall.

The Outlaws of Sherwood, though it is definitely a tale about Robin Hood, is also the story of a number of other outlaws as well (as suggested by the title of the book). Famous characters such as Maid Marian, Little John, Friar Tuck, Allan-a-Dale, Much, and Will Scarlet also make important appearances, along with several new characters of whom I had never heard before. One of the things I enjoyed most about this novel was McKinley's ability to handle such a wide and various cast of characters in a way that didn't seem chaotic or overwhelming to me as a reader. Each character had their own story to tell, and all of these stories were nicely interwoven with one another.

My favorite part of this book was the development of its female characters; specifically, Marian and Cecily. Considering that this was a time where women were considered to be the property of their closest male relative and expected to conduct most of their lives within the domestic sphere, Marian and Cecily (and their male friends), were extremely progressive. In fact, I would argue that it is Marian, and not Robin, who is the bravest and most heroic character in the novel, even though she doesn't get as much time on the page. The women in The Outlaws of Sherwood play an important role and are (usually) treated as equals to their male counterparts, which was an aspect of the book that I really enjoyed.

Weighing in at under 300 pages (in my edition of the book), The Outlaws of Sherwood is an overall quick, easy, and enjoyable read. Though I actually took about a week and a half to complete it, I could have probably finished the book in an afternoon if I had really wanted to. The fact that it took me awhile to read the book isn't a negative thing...I think I actually enjoyed this book more by reading it at a slower pace. If you are at all interested in the mythology of Robin Hood and his friends, or if you've enjoyed other books by Robin McKinley, then I would recommend checking out The Outlaws of Sherwood!
Profile Image for Gail Carriger.
Author 55 books15k followers
May 29, 2015

There are conceits I really like about this book. The fact that Robin is a reluctant hero and leader ("He did not like it that they deferred to him so easily."), and that he isn't a very good marksmen. Is fun to see how McKinley plays with the legend. McKinley talks a bit about the politics and her reasoning behind the historical setting and owns her own doubts and issues with these parts of the story. Any flaws there don't really bother me as much as they would were I a medievalist. But I've never paid much attention to the time period as an archaeologist (ugly pottery) and so I give her a pass. I even don't mind the whole lack of Nottingham caves thing, after all, this book was written before the internet.

I did, however, struggle a bit with Robin's character. There is a conversation between Cecily and Little John near the end of the book, as follows:

"Little John said, “You do not think Robin is a stupid man.”
She almost laughed. “No. He may be the most terrifying person I have met—because you believe what he tells you even when you know better. And yet I think he would quench that fire in him if he could—perhaps because it throws such dark shadows around the things he does not say."

I just never got this from descriptions of Robin and his behavior, I never felt I was shown this through the story, although I do love Cecily's assessment of the situation. While I don't mind being told, I'm not certain I believe. In building him up as primarily a reluctant hero, I found myself unconvinced on his leadership abilities. As McKinley herself writes, "I needed him to be a particular kind of hero with a particular set of preoccupations, surrounded by a company of people with preoccupations of their own."

Although, I did believe in his friendship with others.

The dogs stopped, confused, but the bows behind Will’s back stayed stretched.
“I have the right-hand one in my eye,” murmured Marian; “and I the left,” replied Robin. “I am content with the center,” said Much.

Perhaps my lack of faith in Robin has something to do with McKinley's style of writing. She is one of those miraculous and wonderful writers who's power is often vested the things she leave unwritten. Here's an example...

He looked at her a moment longer, but when she lifted her eyes to meet his something happened to his face, and he turned away, and picked up the little pot of tallow again.

We aren't told what happened to Little John's face, or anything really about his inner feelings but we nevertheless know that he is half in love with Cecily and uncomfortable with his own realization. Here is another example:

"I think that we cannot go back to Greentree, and be as we were.” He shrugged again—and winced; and brought his eyes back to Sir Richard. “And perhaps it is only the bruises which speak this way.”

You see? Masterful.

Normally, this style works so very well for McKinley, but for me it made Robin's character fall flat. Also while I like the love affair between Robin and Marian, I found it less interesting than those of the side characters such as Little John and Cecily and even Sybil and Eva.
This entire review has been hidden because of spoilers.
Profile Image for Margaret.
1,035 reviews332 followers
July 12, 2018
This was my first reread in a long while, as this is probably my least favorite McKinley book (which doesn't mean I don't like it, it just means I like the others more). It's clear from the start that McKinley's Robin Hood is very different from the traditional figure. As the book opens, Robin, a forester of Sherwood Forest, is practicing his archery in preparation for an archery contest at the Nottingham fair; unfortunately for him, "[Robin:] was not a bad archer, but his father had been a splendid one, and he was his father's only child." His skills take a turn for the worse quickly, when in a skirmish with other foresters who bear him some enmity, he accidentally kills a man when he meant only to injure him in order to escape.

Robin's personality is very different from the swashbuckling, Errol Flynn-like archetype. He is intelligent and brave, but also cautious and pessimistic, which makes me like him very much. Much of the initial action of the story comes from Robin's best friends, Marian and Much (son of the local miller, and not a character I've encountered in Robin Hood stories outside of this one -- I'd be interested to know if he's a McKinley creation or if I simply haven't read enough Robin Hood to recognize him, which is certainly possible). I like his quiet, unsure romance with Marian, but I like the secondary romance (which I won't go into further for spoilery reasons) much more.

Really, I think the book's main flaw is lack of action. The plot doesn't really get going until at least halfway through, and though I love McKinley's sense of place and exploration of character, I really need more action to stay totally engaged.
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663 reviews29 followers
December 27, 2019
This is just deeply satisfying in a way very few other Robin Hood tales are.
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