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Book Review: Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood by Clayton Emery

* Genre: Historical Fantasy
* ISBN: 0595206433
* ISBN-13: 9780595206438
* Format: Paperback, 240pp
* Publisher: iUniverse, Incorporated
* Pub. Date: January 2002

Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood is an unusual novel. It is a strange hybrid of genres, part fantasy, part history, and part mystery. Clayton Emery avoids the standard tropes of the Robin Hood mythos and creates something entirely new to add to the Robin Hood legend.

In Emery�s Robin Hood, the defeat of the Sheriff of Nottingham did not result in the Merry Men�s return from the forests of Sherwood to the realm of civilization. After the previous, cruel Sheriff�s death, he was simply replaced by a kinder, although just as Norman, new Sheriff. Guy of Gisbourne still lurks in the shadows, trying to kill Robin and gain Marian for himself. And King Richard has not yet returned from his incarceration in Austria, his ransom not yet paid. Robin and his band of Merry Men turns out to be twelve men and their families, along with a few others living a subsistence life in the forest of Sherwood. This setting is a far cry from Howard Pyle�s rendition of the legend or the Errol Flynn movies.

Robin and Marian are leading their small company as best they can. But Guy still seeks their destruction, albeit without the help of the Sheriff of Nottingham. Seeking out a hedge witch, Guy has her create a beast, a boar with supernatural speed, strength, and power over the weather. In the meantime, a false Robin Hood is killing and raping poor peasants in the forest of Sherwood, blackening Robin of Locksley�s good name. Adding misery to trouble, Robin is called to fulfill his vow of fealty to the King, and attend him in London, bringing his band with him, effectively ending their life in Sherwood. Robin and Marian are forced to confront all of these threats to their way of life, even to the point of calling upon the magic of faerie and Hern the Hunter to help.

Emery�s Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood was first published in 1988 by Baen Books and then republished in 2001 by the iUniverse. Emery has created a series of mysteries involving Robin Hood and Marian which have gained some popularity among historical mystery fans (read this one or this one for free). But Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood is more of a fantasy and action story than a mystery. Effectively, Emery is creating a situation which will lead to the breakup of their way of life. A future historical fantasy novel involving Robin and Marian is planned for release in 2008 as an ebook. He is also the author of many Forgotten Realms and Magic: The Gathering novels and short stories.

This novel fails in three ways. First, there are a plethora of spelling and or grammatical mistakes. For instance, the author uses �breath� when he means �breathe� or forgets a possessive noun such as �he� or �she� when it is needed in a sentence. This is probably a result of it being self published in this new edition (iUniverse is a self-publishing company) more than anything. Self-editing is never perfect, and this shows clearly why that is the case.

Secondly, Emery has a fascination with genitals and sex. At the beginning of each chapter, Emery describes the beasts of Sherwood, deer, badger, bird, and shows the forest of Sherwood through their eyes. This is neat idea and one of the strengths of the novel. But more often than not, these opening scenes are in some way related to sex. Here is the opening sentence to chapter six. �The young buck sniffed the doe’s vagina and licked at her urine.� For the story, this is an unnecessary thing and could have been written in another way. As well, interactions between women and men in Clayton�s story always have sexual tension. Of course, in some places this makes sense, such as when a man and woman compete against each other in sword bout. But other times it is not needed and serves no purpose for the story.

Thirdly, Emery likes to sidetrack his story by having his characters tell short stories. Sometimes in a novel this works, but more often than not it is sidetracking and filler for the novelist. Although two of the stories do have something to do with a subplot, and one provides an unlooked for solution to a problem, Emery would have done better to simply allude to the events related, rather than tell the entire story. It is almost as if he wrote this back story for the novel and wanted to make sure wit was included. Or perhaps his novel was too short and he needed to flesh it out. Either way, it is a detractor to the narrative.

Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood has some successes as well. Opening each chapter with the point of view of a different beast of Sherwood was a clever addition to the narrative, and Emery uses it well, for the most part. Emery also doesn�t fall into standard tropes of the Robin Hood mythos, and so adds reality to the story, without taking away from the legend. Unlike other writers who have sought a historical basis for Robin Hood, Emery chooses instead to embrace the realities of England in the twelfth century while adding a dollop of the unreal to keep the feel of legend in the story.

Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood is in a category of fantasy all its own. It fits into none of the generally accepted genres or subgenres and is interesting enough for that fact alone. Although I disapprove of some of the inclusions of Emery, I still found that I couldn�t put the book down. I just had to find out how Robin and Marian were going to get out of the mess Emery had backed them into. Robin Hood fans will probably not like Emery�s take on their favorite legend, nor will fans of fantasy find enough of the fantastic to sate their appetite. The history is mere background and lacks any real depth, so fans of historical fiction will not enjoy it much. If you can find Robin Hood and the Beasts of Sherwood I can�t recommend that you read it. But if you do choose to read it, you will wonder why you can�t seem to put it down even with its annoying flaws. I certainly did.

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