When he's caught stealing, young Alan Dale is forced to leave his family and go to live with a notorious band of outlaws in Sherwood Forest. Their leader is the infamous Robin Hood. A tough, bloodthirsty warrior, Robin is more feared than any man in the county. And he becomes a mentor for Alan; with his fellow outlaws, Robin teaches Alan how to fight - and how to win. But Robin is a ruthless man - and although he is Alan's protector, if Alan displeases him, he could also just as easily become his murderer...From bloody battles to riotous feast days to marauding packs of wolves, Outlaw is a gripping, action-packed historical thriller that delves deep into the fascinating legend of Robin Hood.
Angus Donald's Outlaw, the first novel in a series about Robin Hood, is quite unlike any novel I've read featuring one of histories most enduring legends. Dark, gritty and violent are not words that usually come to mind when one thinks of the Robin Hood legend but, in the Sherwood Forest of Outlaw, each of these words provides an apt description of Robin Hood himself, as well as of the world in which he lived and thrived. While many of the characters familiar to fans of the legend are featured in this novel - it is narrated by Alan Dale - they are definitely not the band of merry men usually associated with the legend. Robin Hood himself is characterized as a ruthless man, one who cares very little about justice or giving back to the poor. Instead, this Robin is more intent on exacting revenge - often in a violent fashion - on those he perceives to have done him and his band of fellow outlaws harm. While I found the Robin Hood of Outlaw difficult to like and even harder to respect, the traits given to him by Donald make it easy to understand why he was leader of the Sherwood outlaws.
Overall, I enjoyed this novel. While I found certain scenes a little too violent for my tastes, they did serve to give the book a more authentic feel. The late 12th century was not an easy time for idealists, life was tough for those less fortunate and the penalties for breaking the King's law were harsh, especially when applied by ruthless, self-serving men such as the Sheriff of Nottinghamshire. I would expect any man who wished to survive life as an outlaw would need to be a cutthroat to do so, caring little for gallantry or chivalry when his, and perhaps his family's, life was on the line. As Outlaw clearly conveys, life could be extremely violent in the 12th century for those living outside of the law. My main criticism of the novel concerns the relationship between Robin and Marie-Anne of Locksley, which I thought was poorly developed and hard to accept given Robin's personality. It was difficult for me to believe that a noblewoman of Marie-Anne's stature would fall in love with a man as ruthless as Robin. It is my hope that Donald introduces the reader to a more human side of Robin in the next installment of the series.
I recommend this book to historical fiction fans, although I do so with a word of caution. This novel is at times violent. Readers who are bothered by violence might be better off staying away from this book.