Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

ScarletUS.inddGoodreads: Scarlet
Series: Scarlet #1
Source: Library

Official Summary: Posing as one of Robin Hood’s thieves to avoid the wrath of the evil Thief Taker Lord Gisbourne, Scarlet has kept her identity secret from all of Nottinghamshire. Only the Hood and his band know the truth: the agile thief posing as a whip of a boy is actually a fearless young woman with a secret past. Helping the people of Nottingham outwit the corrupt Sheriff of Nottingham could cost Scarlet her life as Gisbourne closes in.

It’s only her fierce loyalty to Robin—whose quick smiles and sharp temper have the rare power to unsettle her—that keeps Scarlet going and makes this fight worth dying for.

ReviewScarlet takes readers to the beginning of Robin Hood’s band, introducing a group that of yet has only four members, all of whom are young and, though talented, still figuring out how to best utilize their skills.  The story features all the elements readers love in a Robin Hood tale, including the most beloved characters and a central fight between Robin’s men and the sheriff of Nottingham.  Gaughen also includes enough original features to make her version fresh and worth picking out of a lineup of retellings all set in Sherwood Forest England, during the Crusades.  She makes a few relatively minor changes, such as revealing in the first few pages that Tuck is not a friar but simply a man who owns an inn called Friar Tuck’s, and also introduces a second major conflict that runs parallel to the one with the sheriff.

All is told in a first person narrative from the perspective of Scarlet herself—who thankfully comes right out and admits she is a girl disguising herself as a boy.  Most authors using this plot element try to make it a sudden reveal halfway through the novel, which can be frustrating (readers go through the “but are you really the same person?” questioning phase just as much as the characters) and downright cliché.  Scarlet is a plucky girl determined to to carve herself a new life, though she is not always certain whether she wants that life to be with Robin’s band.  The story is just as much about Scarlet’s search for a home and identity as it is about fighting the injustice of Prince John’s government, which gives it a personal and human aspect not found in many retellings.  Annoying, Scarlet relates events in an affected commoner dialect, consistently saying things like, “He were afeared.”  Thankfully, no one else speaks like this, so when other characters are introduced and start talking, readers got a break from the horrendous grammar.  Of course, this also raises the question of why Scarlet speaks like this at all.  Where did she pick it up, if no other person, other commoners included, ever talks like that?  Readers may never know.

Gaughen also adds a swoon-worthy romance to her tale, which will leave readers hungry for more of the action and romantic dialogue in the sequel.  There is an attempt at a love triangle, but it has a rather obvious outcome, due to the characterization of the two men in question. Even so, both men appear to have a decent shot at winning over the girl, at least for a while, so the love triangle does manage to add at least of bit of tension to the book.  Basically, readers know how everything must end, but Scarlet herself appears legitimately torn and both men have enough good characteristics that her attraction to both believable.

The action plot also has a few obvious twists, but they are interesting enough and Gaughen writes well enough that the story is still fun to read, even if readers can hazard a few good guesses at what will happen.  In general, this is the sign of a good writer.  As I have mentioned before on the blog, one of my English professors was fond of commenting, “No one rereads books for plot.”  So if readers can know what happens and still want to keep reading, there must be something really enjoyable or interesting going on.

And there is.  Gaughen takes advantage of the inherent question of the Robin Hood story: What is moral?  Is it right to steal from the rich to give to the poor?  Is it just a lesser evil to steal and help people survive than to watch them starve to death?  Did Robin have any other options?  When threatened, should he turn himself in to the sheriff, or will he ultimately save more lives by continuing to live and give the people money?  I am not sure any Robin Hood tale gives a concrete answer to all or even most of these questions, but a good version explores them instead of assuming This is just how the story goes.  The characters should talk about them, and the readers should be lead to think about them.   Gaughen adds further moral ambiguity with some aspects of the romance plot.  Normally, I am all for characters following the straight and narrow in their romantic endeavors (I cannot, for example, really enjoy any book where the main romance is adulterous, like Water for Elephants), but the ambiguity seems so natural and necessary to a story like Scarlet.  I am looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

Robin Hood retellings, in my opinion, can get old.  They often seem so similar, in ways that retellings of other stories usually do not.  Cinderella, for example, has become a modern day waitress, a futuristic Japanese cyborg, a girl in a fantasy land who literally must obey any order given.  Robin Hood, barring a few exceptions, is always a man in Lincoln green living in Sherwood forest.  There are only so many changes an author can make to that tale.  Gaughen, however, has taken that story and made it seem new.  Instead of focusing on the action (though there is plenty), she highlights deeper aspects of the legend—the morality, the relationship among the band members, the search for an identity and a home when you are a criminal living in the woods—and she gives these aspects a unique voice, that of a tough girl who apparently knows no grammar.

Published: 2012

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9 thoughts on “Scarlet by A. C. Gaughen

  1. Brittany says:

    I’m glad you enjoyed this one! I’ve heard so many good things about it and I really want to try it sometime! I’m interested to read the Robin Hood retelling 🙂

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    • Krysta says:

      I think this one looks really interesting, too. When it came out, I thought it was a standalone–possibly because I can’t recall ever really seeing a Robin Hood book series. I’d like to see where the author takes the plot with more than one book.

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    • Briana says:

      I was a little skeptical because the whole “girl in Robin’s band” thing reminded me of some other retellings with the cliche “girl disguised as boy in Robin’s band” plot line. I really loved Scarlet though! As I mentioned, the fact it’s said up front that she’s a girl really reassured me, and it just got better from there! Gaughen does a really nice job of making the story sound both traditional and original.

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  2. denise320 says:

    Finished this book — finally. Her grammar drove me crazy too, especially since it was only consistently wrong in her use of ‘were’. And I wasn’t satisfied with the reason the book gave for how she talked, though I suppose I must give it credit for trying… And, while I appreciated Gaughen trying to change the story up a bit, there was just something about it that made it difficult for me to sit through. Maybe I didn’t identify with Scarlet much. Maybe, again, I didn’t appreciate figuring out who she ‘was’ early on in the plot. (Also: contrary to what your professor thinks, I absolutely reread books for their plots — certainly not the only reason I may reread a book — but there’s always something new to find in the better ones, and, of course, I love trying to discover how the author pulled it off). Not one of my favorite retellings, all in all, but it wasn’t terrible. I was surprised to see you guys saying this is supposed to be a series though. I think this book could easily stand alone. I’m not sure I’ll be continuing the series, at any rate — we’ll see.

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    • Briana says:

      Yes, I was pretty happy when it turned out everyone else spoke normally. But, as I mentioned, the fact that everyone else speaks normally means the reason that Scarlet gives for having terrible grammar doesn’t make any sense. Who could she possibly have learned her dialect from? o.O

      I also think her identity is a little obvious, but there were details about the matter that were less obvious, so I went with it. It was surprising enough to still be interesting.

      I reread some books and enjoy the plot, but the point is that there usually has to be something more going on to make it worthwhile. You aren’t rereading to find out what happens next; there’s no mystery or suspense, so there must be something interesting about the characters or the language or the philosophy.

      The ending is clearly open for a sequel, but I wasn’t expecting that when I started reading. Hopefully there’s enough new plot to justify another whole book.

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      • denise320 says:

        I think on some level, I assumed she picked up on the streets in London or something…

        And I realized a difference in how we’re understanding ‘reading for plot’. I don’t think it is necessary that there is ‘mystery’ or ‘suspense’ the second time around. I may know what happens in certain books, but I still reread them to see it happen again and again and again. So in that respect, yes, actually, sometimes I reread books just to see what happens next. Not all books of course, but some. Now, it is true that I usually like the characters or something else as well. If I hate the characters, I’m probably not picking up the book again, no matter how good the plot is. But I can also pretty much guarantee the obverse is true: I’m not picking up a book again, if I didn’t like the plot, no matter how much I get attached to a character. Maybe that’s just me as a reader, being strange. But I think it just illustrates the complexity there is in finding a book worth rereading — and how plot really shouldn’t be discounted quite as much as many academics in the field like to discount it nowadays. Characters/language/philosophy is nice and obviously necessary for a truly good story – but a story with a bad plot is a bad story, and a story without a plot, for me, is not a story. At best, it’s a lengthy character sketch — at worst (assuming it’s actually ‘trying’ to be a story), an academic treatise. But this is all besides the point, when it comes to Scarlet… haha

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        • Krysta says:

          I think Briana’s professor was just saying that readers don’t reread for plot in the sense that you can know what is happening and still enjoy the story. For instance, Shakespeare begins Romeo and Juliet by telling his audience that Romeo and Juliet commit suicide. No want reads/watches the play to learn what happens to the two lovers. They read it for a combination of the things you mentioned–entertainment value (that’s the plot I believe you’re saying you like to see again and again–a good sword fight, intrigue, witty jokes), good writing, interesting characters. The idea that no one rereads for plot doesn’t mean that a plot doesn’t have to exist or doesn’t have to be good. So, really your’e in agreement, no?

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  3. denise320 says:

    There always gets to a point on these comments where it won’t let me reply to the last commenter. I don’t know why. Anyway, I think I’ve got it. We’re using ‘for’ differently. (It’s always the prepositions, I tell you. Maybe the Anglo-Saxons and the Latins had it right when they had none in their languages… haha)

    When I say read for plot, I mean read because of the plot — it’s fascinating enough for whatever reason to read/reread the rest of the story, regardless of if you know what happens. Which is why I wanted to argue that it was possible to reread for plot — and why I was focused on why someone might be focusing on the plot while reading and saying that there are more factors (like entertainment, or the desire to learn craft) than just suspense that might motivate someone to do so.

    And when Briana says read for plot, she means read to find out the plot — read the story to learn what happens next. In that sense, yes I can see how it would be more difficult to reread for the plot — though, arguably, if you wait long enough between rereadings (or have problems with memory in general), you can still reread for the plot in Briana’s sense too, if only because you don’t remember the finer points in the plot and therefore don’t actually remember what happens next. I think my biggest problem is that her professor spoke in an extreme — there are usually exceptions to rules and I think they should be acknowledged. If that’s still not what she meant though, then I probably just don’t understand her professor’s quote out of context, as you’ve suggested.

    My other problem was definitely the context I was bringing to it though — I took way too many creative writing classes where the mantra was – basically – it’s all been done before when it comes to plot, so focus on the only thing worth creating — characters! Complicated plots just look like you’re showing off or trying to impress readers, essentially. Rubbed me the wrong way, as you could probably guess. Even literary criticism doesn’t seem to know how to deal with most plots, aside from writing them off as either ‘allegorical’ or ‘entertaining’. It’s the symbolism and the characters and the philosophy that’s really worth discussing. In virtually every class I’ve had, I’ve always felt plot’s gotten the short end of the stick, so I think I’m naturally a bit defensive of them.

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