Book Review: Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody
In this exciting middle grade adventure story, Robin Hood takes a backseat to young Will Scarlet, born the son of a nobleman, now a refugee on the run from the evil lord who has captured his father’s castle and betrayed the king. When we first meet Will, he is the 13-year-old son of the estate, born to privilege and prone to mischief. Now on the verge of manhood, it’s time for him to grow up and start acting like a lord — but when his family is betrayed, Will escapes to Sherwood Forest, where he meets up with a band of thieves and outlaws. Will the Merry Men kill Will, ransom him, or make him one of their own? Will is forced to finally figure out who he is and what he stands for — and whether he going to allow his thirst for vengeance to take over his life.
In the forest, Will meets Much the Miller’s Son (who is really a girl in disguise), John Little, a big, strong but fair fighting man, and the drunken, smelly man whose tent Will shares — the prickly and rather repulsive Rob. But once Rob sobers up on a key mission, Will starts to realize what a natural-born leader this man is — as well as an expert hand with a longbow.
It’s terrific fun to read this version of the Robin Hood story. Will In Scarlet serves very much as an origin story. Instead of focusing on Robin Hood himself, we see the band of outlaws through Will’s eyes, and as Will comes to appreciate their bravery and honor, so do we. The story is told mostly from Will’s perspective, although Much gets her fair share of the action as well, and she’s… well… awesome, for lack of a better word! Much is clever, skilled with a knife or a lock-pick, fierce and determined — and bloody well certain that she does NOT want anyone to know she’s a girl.
As Will and Much discover each other’s secrets, they also form a strong bond based on trust, respect — and something more as well. They’re both such delightful characters, and it’s wonderful to get to know them and see how they grow and change during the course of the story.
The plot of Will in Scarlet zips along with never a dull moment. There are battles, sword fights, ambushes, trickery, and daring escapes. There are also moments of great kindness, and we see how Will changes from spoiled little rich kid to young man with a conscience. In this version of the Robin Hood legend, it’s Will who is responsible for the “rob from the rich and give to the poor” ethos of the Merry Men, and this turning point for Will and the gang is given a meaningful and powerful context within the story.
There are serious moments and moments of pain and suffering as well, but overall Will in Scarlet is an upbeat adventure story with terrific characters, some cleverly concealed and revealed secrets, and a storyline that bounces right along. With Will and Much as the two lead characters, I can see this story appealing to boys and girls alike, and highly recommend it for kids in the middle grade zone.
While I couldn’t find anything to confirm this, Will in Scarlet certainly seems like it should be the first in a series. Nothing is left hanging at the end, and the wrap-up is well-earned and satisfying — but in Will in Scarlet, we’re seeing the early days of Robin Hood as the leader of his band of Merry Men. I really and truly hope that author Matthew Cody will give us more! I’d love to see what happens next for Will, Much, Rob and the rest of the gang!
Title: Will in Scarlet
Author: Matthew Cody
Publisher: Random House Children’s Books
Publication date: 2013
Genre: Middle grade fiction/adventure/historical fiction
Source: Review copy courtesy of Random House Children’s Books via NetGalley