"A children's story which is enjoyed only by children is a bad children's story. The good ones last." --C.S. Lewis
1. (+) Scarlet/Marian, the protagonist - Look at this paragraph from page 61-2 (could change in the final copy): "You learned to use your hands to fight for you. And you learned to trust the band to be at your back. You may have ever learned to let Rob save you. But you don't need a damn one of those things. Your power, your great gift, is that you never give up. When something fails you make a new plan, and another, and another. You never accept defeat. You never give up." That's Scarlet at heart. She's fierce, impatient, impulsive, brave, determined and quite flawed, considerably idealistic but always true to her fiery temperament and passion to help others.
2. (+) World-building - This is where the side cast and writing mixed. The writing established part of the medieval feel, and a lot of the side cast helped settle the differences between the poor and rich, Nottingham and the courtly life. We learn about the Crusades from the perspective of these characters, and we learn about how they affected this little town and its starving group of people. Gaughen is particularly good at emphasizing class differences through Scarlet's observant and judgmental perspective.
3. (+) Romance - At first the romance rated lower for me. As someone who hasn't had much exposure to Rob, I was somewhat disappointed because he and Scarlet had a lot of pretty words and sweet scenes but I didn't feel like there'd been enough action to underlie those declarations. Little by little, however, I was won over as both Scarlet and Rob struggled but remained supportive of the other, perfectly captured in this line from page 109 (could change in the final copy): "He gave calm to me so I could be strong." Rob and Scarlet have similar values, a similar desire, too, for adventure and to help others, and they help each other do just that.
4. (+/-) Plot - A character says, "Maybe both of us should start fighting for our happy endings" (p. 55; could change in final copy). This plot seems to be oriented around the emotional consequences of the plot points in the previous novel, which could have been unfortunate for me, but Gaughen was really good at advancing this plot while still reminding readers of what had happened in Scarlet. Though I haven't read the first novel, expectations still came calling -- I wanted a bit more action and adventure, and less romance to propel the plot, and sometimes what I expected was what I got. I wanted more twists. I have no idea how much of the plot owes homage to Robin Hood, but regardless it was still entertaining and true to the time period.
5. (+) Gender Bending/Empowerment - When it comes to gender-bending plots or plot twists, I expect either some sort of humor in the situation or an empowering feel as stereotypes are pointed out and discarded. The latter is what Lady Thief did. I bookmarked several truly wonderful lines: "And yet the court's ability to discuss a young lady as if she were an object seems savage also" (103); "Then you utterly mistake the role of women, [...]. We fight for different things, but women are the most natural of fighters. [...] Something I have liked about you from the first, [...], is that you have defiance and pride within you. That is a form of fight" (120); and more. The medieval setting allows Gaughen to reject the cruelties and behaviors that were adopted towards and frequented upon women.
6. (+) Characters - Except for his name, Much is just plain ole adorable. I would read another novel just to know more about that gangly, loyal kid. What I particularly loved about this novel was that even though it introduced so many different characters, it was all purposeful. It gave the feel of Scarlet knowing so many of the people who she was trying to protect, and a lot of their characters were also purposefully explored, including the villains, Prince John and Gisbourne and others. When I got bored, I could always count on the characters to keep me invested in the story.
7. (+) The Ending - Not going to lie - coming to the end, I was starting to get a bit bored because things had happened exactly as I thought as they would and the novel was more romance-heavy than I thought it would be... And then A.C. Gaughen completely changed the game. What happened will surely get addressed in the final book, but I definitely did not see that coming and it's clear that the author is willing to take risks. (I mean, not just with the ending -- this is a rather violent book, huh?).
8. (+) Writing - Within four pages, I knew that I would love the writing, the voice. Everything about it. Although some sentences are harder for me to understand and can read a tad clunky, most are both beautiful and pragmatic, creating a tangible mood, atmosphere, and medieval feel while showing practical actions. Here was one description, at the very beginning, that won me over (p. 8; could change in final copy): "The winter forest were different for us; the snow covered the ground and made everything in the forest a lie, a trick. Holes were covered over, once-strong branches were brittle and weak. Everything looked beautiful and clear, like the world were at peace, but what it really meant was not a thing could live upon its frightful cold." Spooky, beautiful picture of the world around them, and great at conveying Scarlet's emotions.
9. (+/-) Pacing - This goes back to my feelings of restlessness. No doubt that the book built to its climax well, but given that the synopsis reveals some of the major plot points... well, I would've expected those plot points to occur sooner and in between those times, I'd feel restless.
10. (+) The Cover - Maybe part of the allure for this sequel was this gorgeous cover. I love the stunning contrast between the colors, and I love how it captures some of Scarlet's fire and her ability with knives.
A fantastic character cast, fiery heroine, and beautiful writing and voice fill the pages of this empowering retelling of Robin Hood.