Hello Humans! I read a lot of dense, chunky fantasy in November of 2019 and the book I’m reviewing today is no exception. I’ve read a fair few Robin Hood retellings/reimaginings over the last few years and so far none of them have totally hit the spot – I was willing to give it another go and Nathan Makaryk’s Nottingham seemed like a great opportunity. I went into this book with a reasonably open mind, but the ‘manliness’ of the cover did have me a little wary…was I right to be concerned?
England, 1191. King Richard is half a world away, fighting for God and his own ambition. Back home, his country languishes, bankrupt and on the verge of anarchy. People with power are running unchecked. People without are growing angry. And in Nottingham, one of the largest shires in England, the sheriff seems intent on doing nothing about it.
As the leaves turn gold in the Sherwood Forest, the lives of six people–Arable, a servant girl with a secret, Robin and William, soldiers running from their pasts, Marion, a noblewoman working for change, Guy of Gisbourne, Nottingham’s beleaguered guard captain, and Elena Gamwell, a brash, ambitious thief–become intertwined.
And a strange story begins to spread . . .
Content warning: attempted rape.
One of the things that often comes up in Robin Hood based stories is the idea of myth or legend vs truth – the fact that we still don’t really know if Robin Hood was a real person or not (in whatever sense) seems to grab people. This book is no exception, playing with the idea of what might happen behind the scenes to feed into the story of Robin Hood. Overall, I think this is a great concept for a Robin Hood story and a nice framework within which you can then change the story we know (and love?). It feels very much as though the events in this story could have happened and could have been warped into the story we know today.
This book is multiple POV, featuring Robin and his pal William from the crusades (is he in the original – I genuinely don’t know?), Marian and a whole host of other characters. On the one hand, I enjoyed getting so many perspectives on this story, again we get that theme of there being more than one ‘truth’ to every tale. On the other hand, there are times where it feels like you totally lose one character for hundreds of pages, if you get attached to that character and their story then you have to plough through a lot of other plots to pick up their thread again. It’s the same problem I had with A Song of Ice and Fire – I just didn’t care about everyone and I was frustrated whenever I had to get through the chapters of the story that didn’t interest me. In this case, my absolute favourite character was Arable, but she was, unfortunately, one of those characters that only really featured when she was important for someone else’s story.
While I’m talking about Arable, let’s have a general note on the female characters in this story. Where Robin Hood in the past has always felt quite a male-dominated story, more modern retellings are (quite rightly) putting women into more prominent positions within the narrative. I thought that this book did a reasonably good job of balancing the male and female characters, as well as giving them fairly similar skill sets. It isn’t that women are relegated to being ‘sneaky’ or just being good at politics – there are female characters in this book who are good at fighting! So points for that. I take away points for the attempted rape that, in my opinion, didn’t serve the plot whatsoever and could have had an alternate event in its place, it just felt like it wanted to remind you that women were weak within this society – I don’t feel like we needed reminding.
This book was slow to start, a lot of time is spent setting up the various players and getting Robin and William back from the crusades and I just didn’t feel like I needed that backstory – certainly not to that level of detail. Once that beginning was all done I started to really enjoy the book, the establishing of the Robin Hood figure in this world was done very well and I liked how the conflict grew and changed as the book went on. Unfortunately, the ending felt a bit flat, and some things really didn’t seem to fit with the characters as we had seen them grow and change throughout the narrative. I was left, unfortunately, feeling dissapointed.
Overall, I think this is an interesting Robin Hood reimagining. I would say that those who are interested should go for it. I wouldn’t recommend it to anyone looking for a fast-paced read, you have to give it some time to get a lot out of it. But I think it will definitely have appeal to some.
My rating: 3 / 5 stars
I received a free copy of this book from the publisher. All opinions are my own.
Nottingham is available now!
What say you? Will you be reading this? Let me know in the comments below!