Friday, May 25, 2012

Scarlet by A.C. Gaughen

Official summary:
Will Scarlet is good at two things: stealing from the rich and keeping secrets--skills that are in high demand in Robin Hood's band of thieves, who protect the people of Nottingham from the evil sheriff. Scarlet's biggest secret of all is one only Robin and his men know...that she is posing as a thief; that the slip of a boy who is fast with sharp knives is really a girl.

The terrible events in her past that led Scarlet to hide her real identity are in danger of being exposed when the thief taker Lord Gisbourne arrives in town to rid Nottingham of the Hood and his men once and for all. As Gisbourne closes in and puts innocent lives at risk, Scarlet must decide how much the people of Nottingham mean to her, especially John Little, a flirtatious fellow outlaw, and Robin, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. There is real honor among these thieves and so much more--making this a fight worth dying for.

My rating: *****

And that's a very high five stars at that. Sometimes I think I should be more judicious with my five-star ratings so I can save them for books I REALLY love like Scarlet. It was such a fantastic book! I had planned to blog about Holly Black's Curse Workers series first, but as soon as I finished reading Scarlet this morning I knew I had to blog about it right away.

First off, I loved Scarlet. She's so human and complex and flawed and fierce. Her voice is very unique (and her grammar atrocious). The story is written in first person, and at first I thought it might bother me (she says 'ain't' constantly, always replaces 'was' with 'were', uses certain words over and over - pipes for throat, bits for, well, certain bits of anatomy, mug for face, etc...), but instead it helped suck me into the story and Scarlet's head even more (the same thing happened to me while reading Saba's voice in Blood Red Road). And it even turns out there's a very compelling reason in the plot for the way she speaks. I just felt for her so much; all the things she endures are awful. But she's brave and you do not want to get in the way of those knives. It was easy to cheer for her and hope desperately right along with her for everything she wanted (and for all those things she didn't dare allow herself to want).

I was worried that I'd have to endure a love triangle after reading the summary, but it's really, refreshingly, not. I thought it was pretty clear from the beginning how Scarlet really felt, so there wasn't much waffling on her part (she's really not the waffling type anyway). The romance is fab.u.lous. Meltingly good and very clean. And the male characters? Just as flawed and lovable as Scarlet. John is awesome. Equal parts dork and sincerely lovable fellow. Much (yes that's a name) was another character I loved for his toughness. Then there's Robin. So noble and brave, yet tormented. He's fiercely loyal and protective of Scarlet, but he lets her make her own decisions. And sometimes he was an idiot. Sometimes he said things that made me hate him. But in the end I loved him all the more for it.

I think I could talk about the characters all day. Sometimes book characters are too dramatic or too extreme to feel real, but the people in Scarlet are so real. I felt like I knew them.

ANYWAY, I've already rambled on too much probably (I can never keep my reviews brief, especially when I love a book, which always makes me want to gush) but I just want to say a couple more things. The story is great. The conflicts are a bit obvious and recycled in the world of Robin Hood retellings (fight the evil sheriff, save the poor oppressed people, evade and escape capture, plenty of thieving and such), but it's all very well done. The side plot with Gisbourne and Scarlet's past is very compelling. I loved the whole girl-in-disguise-as-a-boy thing, because it was an original take on it. The people close to Scarlet know exactly who she is and I thought it was a brilliant twist.

CONTENT ISSUES: There is a little bit of foul language and some crude references (typical medieval fare). One band of Robin's crew in particular isn't shy about his activities with women. Also, there is one person who discovers Scarlet's a girl after attacking her and feeling her chest and another evil guy who wants to take advantage of discovering she's a girl, but doesn't get very far.

Warning: This is a stand-alone novel with no immediate plans for a sequel, but it ends with several big fat plot-lines left open. BIG. FAT. Don't expect a lot of closure. You've been warned, so don't blame me if you finish it and feel the need to throw the book at the wall when you're done. This is what A.C. Gaughen had to say about it on her website:

*Will SCARLET have a sequel, or is it a standalone?
Scarlet was written as a standalone--it's very open ended because though her story ended, the situation in Nottingham certainly didn't. It's also been her challenge all along--to fight against pain and injustice while knowing that these things don't ever really end. They get harder, get easier, and come around again but they never end.
That being said, I can't say for sure if I'll NEVER write another Scarlet story. I love her voice, her friends and her world, so I imagine there's some room for inspiration there!

SPOILERS (highlight to see):

She's really Marian!!! I loved that. Also, what gives??? We don't even get to see a snogging scene between and Scarlet and Robin? I have to say, though, it says something for this book that it is so romantic without even having to seal the deal with a kiss. I think it's one of the  best love stories I've read in ages. It's really love.

Happy reading!

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