by A. E. Chandler
The Scarlet Forest faithfully recreates the tale of Robin Hood by blending fact, fiction, and folklore. Through interconnected stories and events, the reader is led through Sherwood Forest with the Band of Merry Men, in a valiant attempt to discover the man behind the myth.
Reading The Scarlet Forest is akin to jumping into a luminous and richly detailed painting. The book is so visual and immersive, lavishly drizzled with wonderful historical detail and anecdote. There is an archaic slant to the language which enhances the narrative. The prose never feels over-elaborate or forced but its lyrical, almost whimsical quality wonderfully complements the tales of Nottingham’s favourite son and his childhood friends. The Scarlet Forest is a veritable Troubadour in paper (or digital) form.
It is clear that The Scarlet Forest has been written from a place of utmost passion and enthusiasm. The Author’s fascination for her subject shines through every word. The wealth of information contained in the book is astounding, and yet it does not present too dry nor academic.
However, given that the subject matter may or may not have existed, weaving all the components together to produce an entertaining and readable account is no mean feat, but it’s fully achieved in The Scarlet Forest. Never was the adage, ‘hiding in plain sight’ more appropriate than for Robin Hood. His cat and mouse capers with the Sheriff and his men are both clever and amusing. Robin plays the game with such bold, impish humour it makes you forget, that in most instances, the game has life or death stakes.
A.E. Chandler has developed Robin as such a rounded, dimensional character he literally jumps from the page. He has a childlike innocence and joy touched with vulnerability and yet, in many respects, his actions point to a single-minded, ruthless cunning. All of Robin’s compatriots have these qualities but A.E. Chandler is careful to only lay them as foundations of personality in the others; the band of outlaws are individuals and, while wholeheartedly supporting Robin, they are their own people and fully convince as such.
What’s most lovely about The Scarlet Forest are the character vignettes that feature in most chapters. From the nobility to the outlaws, there are some beautifully rustic and bucolic portrayals with bawdiness and haughtiness in equal measure and let’s not forget the main character; Sherwood Forest. Every time I picked up The Scarlet Forest, I was transported into its verdant world to the extent that I could hear the subtle rustling of the forest floor, smell the keen, savoury scent of ancient loam, and fairly see the sunlight slipping over polished leaves. It really is that sensory and evocative.
One of the reasons I love historical fiction is for all the little gems of knowledge you gain; etymology of words, names, places, and venerable, quirky occupations; The Scarlet Forest provides an embarrassment of riches on all scores. Further, despite all the medieval posturing, it’s interesting how many of the themes explored within the tales have a great deal of contemporary relevance, society is still confronting the same issues; which is reassuring on the one hand, but uncomfortably thought-provoking on the other.
The Scarlet Forest: A Tale of Robin Hood is a wondrously imaginative and historically absorbing re-telling of a legend that never grows stale. Highly recommended.