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Outlaw Chronicles – book review

4 September 2016

Outlaw chronicles, beginning with Outlaw, by Angus Donald, is a new take on Robin Hood. Set just before Richard the Lionheart takes the throne, Robert Odo of Sherwood is a fallen nobleman who has become the godfather of the forest, providing protection and running rackets. His outlaw gang is a “better class” than the other outlaws, and they vigorously defend villages under their protection, albeit demanding absolute loyalty in return.  

The narrative character is Alan Dale, a young but experienced thief who joins Robin’s band to escape punishment for a petty crime and rises throughout the series to become a trusted lieutenant. Alan has his own deep secret that gradually emerges throughout the series. For some reason Alan rubs me slightly the wrong way, perhaps he is a little too perfect? Robin is a calculating amoral man, often undertaking schemes that have multiple layers and twists but with a streak for mischievousness that purports to turn several adventures into amusing japes. There is a deep rooted hatred of the clergy in Robin, which leaves the religious characters other than Tuck as a little too dimensional.  I’m not religious, but found this aspect a little unsatisfying, the clergy were just a little too one dimensional.

In Outlaw, Alan is gradually introduced to Robin’s band of trusted warriors – Friar Tuck, a reformed welsh bowman turned monk, Hugh Odo Robin’s brother, Little John the giant, and others who join the gang to become common characters like Will Scarlet and Owain the bowman. Little is seen of Robin but he is a pervasive figure who insists on a well trained band.

There is a period of training, from which Alan emerges as a skilled swordsman, with a natural talent as a minstrel which is used to good effect throughout the series. This is a fairly novel side to the story, allowing a deepening of Alan’s character but also enabling him into situations beyond simply a word and a bow.

Sir Ralph Murdac is the villain of the piece as the Sheriff of Nottingham, although his men are rather ineffectual and normally outwitted by Robin’s seemingly cunning strategies and his soldiers are not as trained as Robin’s outlaws.  Marie-Anne, Countess of Locksley, is used as a bit of a classic pawn in the first book, but develops into a more interesting character.

This first book is a little meandering, almost consciously setting the scene for being the start of a series, which does develop to deal with grander issues. I wasn’t a big fan of the overly convenient conclusion to the first book, which seemed to me a rather illogical trade off of benefit/burden, but set the scene well for an interesting second book.

Characters : 8 / 10

Plot: 5 / 10

Action: 8 / 10

Gripping: 7 / 10

General: 7 / 10

Total: 70%

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