Maid Marian: A Novel

Maid Marian: A Novel

3.9 19
by Elsa Watson
     
 

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An irresistible reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, Maid Marian brings to life the rollicking—and romantic—world of the Middle Ages.

An orphan and heiress to a large country estate, Marian Fitzwater is wed at the age of five to an equally young nobleman, Lord Hugh of Sencaster, a union that joins her inheritance to his. But when she is seventeen

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Overview

An irresistible reimagining of the Robin Hood legend, Maid Marian brings to life the rollicking—and romantic—world of the Middle Ages.

An orphan and heiress to a large country estate, Marian Fitzwater is wed at the age of five to an equally young nobleman, Lord Hugh of Sencaster, a union that joins her inheritance to his. But when she is seventeen, Lord Hugh, whom she hasn’t seen in years, dies under mysterious circumstances. Marian is left alone again—a widow who has never been a bride. But now, like all unmarried young ladies of fortune, she is made the ward of King Richard the Lionheart. Since Richard is away on Crusade, Marian’s fate lies in the hands of his mother, the formidable Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine. The bridegroom Eleanor selects will get Marian’s lands and, in return, pledge his loyalty—and silver—to the king. Marian herself is irrelevant and she knows it. Determined not to be sold into another sham marriage, she seeks out the one man who can help uncover the queen’s intentions: Robin Hood, the notorious Saxon outlaw of Sherwood Forest.

Marian is surprised to discover that the famed “prince of thieves” is not only helpful but handsome, likeable, and sympathetic to her plight. Robin’s men intercept a letter from Queen Eleanor, from which Marian learns, to her horror, that she is to marry her late husband’s brother. His family has a history of mysterious deaths, and Marian knows she is in danger. Once married, she can be easily disposed of—a fate she may have escaped once already. On the eve of her wedding, Robin Hood spirits Marian back to the forest. The Queen believes her to be dead, and Marian begins a new life with Robin Hood’s outlaws, who pledge to help her regain her fortune and expose the treachery of her enemies.

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Editorial Reviews

Publishers Weekly
Light and entertaining, if occasionally cloying, this debut novel presents an account of Maid Marian, the legendary romantic interest of Robin Hood. An orphaned heiress, Lady Marian Fitzwater struggles against scheming, duplicitous relatives for the right to her own lands. At age five she is married to Hugh of Sencaster, who dies suddenly and under dubious circumstances, when she is 17 and before the marriage is consummated. As an orphan, Marian is a ward of the king, England's beloved Richard the Lionheart. But both Richard's powerful mother, Queen Eleanor, and the mother of Marian's dead husband, Lady Pernelle, want her hastily remarried so that her lands and fortune may be seized. Marian decides to enlist the help of Robin Hood and his band of populist outlaws to intercept correspondence and see what plans are being made for her. With Robin's help, she discovers that she is now promised to Hugh's brother, Sir Stephen, and realizes that her life will be in jeopardy once she is married to Stephen and her lands secured. Robin, now enamored, helps Marian escape days before the menacing second marriage. Their relationship deepens, developing into rather treacly love ("I strode off with Robin the following day with a song in my heart"). The book comes alive in its last act, when Marian returns, disguised as a servant, to Lady Pernelle, in a plan to regain control of her lands and her future. While readers are asked to suspend disbelief (can we really believe that because Marian hennas her hair her former mother-in-law won't recognize her?), the tight plotting, intrigue and battles with the devious royals give page-turning momentum to the story's conclusion. (Apr.) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Library Journal
Watson's debut novel offers a tale of Sherwood Forest from Maid Marian's point of view. Lady Marian Fitzwater is 17 years old, orphaned, and newly widowed as the novel opens. Her tenuous situation worsens as Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine cheats Marian of her dowry in order to maintain the political support of Marian's mother-in-law, Lady Pernelle. When Eleanor further commands Marian to marry her brother-in-law, none other than Robin Hood rescues Marian from this loveless marriage. Marian takes refuge in Sherwood Forest with peasants, learning the Saxon language, farming, and other pursuits of common folk. With Robin she sets about to find some justice and make a future. Watson paints a fascinating picture of life during the reign of Richard I, making this an admirable addition to the historical fiction genre. The novel's one flaw lies in its contrived plot developments. These are forgivable, however, because the novel is so entertaining, offering crisp, clever dialog and a fresh treatment of a familiar subject. Recommended for most public libraries.-Jean Langlais, St. Charles P.L., IL Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Men in tights and the women who love them. Maid Marian takes over the storytelling this time around, archly rehashing her rather shopworn tale in a genteel singsong mixed with dull historical exposition that does nothing to enliven it. No matter: gather round the blazing log, ye ignoramuses, and hear of lords and ladies, broadswords and battles, treachery and triumph, love and laughter, etc. etc. If ye should doze off, perhaps Little John will fetch ye a wallop with his mighty cudgel, though even that might not be enough to wake the slumbering louts dreaming fondly of Mel Brooks's madcap take on the dear old story. Time to cut to the short version: Marian Fitzwater is betrothed in infancy to the noble Hugh, who grows up to be a bully, but dies young. Then scheming Eleanor of Aquitaine, wife to mean King Henry of England and queen of everything else, betroths Marian again to Hugh's doltish brother Stephen. But Marian, as clever as she is beautiful, figures out a way to disappear: she is kidnapped by the merry men who prance about Sherwood Forest, boldly going where no man has gone before-hey, wait a minute, that's a different shopworn tale. Back in the forest, Maid Marian busies herself trading contrived banter with Robin Hood and sewing jerkins, while Richard the Lionhearted tours the Middle East and King John squeezes the very life out of humble cottagers and lofty lords alike. Eventually, Marian and Robin hatch an unlikely plot to regain her ancestral lands. Soporific debut. Agent: Margret McBride

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Product Details

ISBN-13:
9781400082766
Publisher:
Crown Publishing Group
Publication date:
03/22/2005
Edition description:
Reprint
Pages:
320
Product dimensions:
5.42(w) x 8.00(h) x 0.70(d)
Lexile:
1180L (what's this?)

Read an Excerpt

I dreamt that night of Atalanta, the fleet-footed maiden of my schoolroom lessons, who raced every man who dared to challenge her. Atalanta, dark hair flying, flashed through my dreams like a blackbird in flight. She danced everywhere, in the wind, in the sun, across a field of ripening wheat, but when a hand gripped my shoulder she danced away, a spark disappearing into blackness.

The hand belonged to the queen of England, who herself contained all the power a king's widow deserved. When I opened my eyes, I saw her there, heard her raspy breathing in the windless night, saw the age spots on her hands. She sat by my side, stroked my hair, and spoke without preamble.

"Your husband is dead, Lady Marian."

"Dead?" I stared at her a moment, stunned more by the words and the notion than by the loss of a husband I neither loved nor trusted.

"Dead?" How? How has he died?"

"A long sickness brought on by riding a tournament too early in the season. He had the best physicians, even the king's own man, but bloodletting, no matter how well done, cannot save one who is already far gone. These things happen, you know, tragic though it may be. I would not trouble yourself, my dear child, if I were you."

I believe I gasped, for to find my prospects so instantly altered stole away all of my breath. The queen had bid me not to trouble myself, but the more I considered, the more discomfited I became. In the strange ways of the mind, my thoughts became twisted, raveled together, so that Atalanta seemed almost to have brought death to Hugh's young heart. I thought of his face, of his blood pooling in the catch basin, and a deep shudder skidded down my spine.

The queen saw me start, saw me fall befuddled, and took the chance to gather her skirts and slip through the door before I found my tongue. I caught a look from her as she exited, a penetrating glance such as one uses when peering through smoke. 'Twas the look of the wary, of one who guards a secret--I had not expected it to fall from the face of my queen.

There I remained, all perplexed and alone. Annie, my tender nurse of childhood, was away on an errand of her own--I had no one to comfort me, no one to help me discern my way. For what course was I to take from here? What future lay spread for me now that Hugh was no more? Too, I was struck by the irregular honor of finding the queen in my own chamber. Surely this was no coveted task, to tell a young bride of her bridegroom's death. What, then, made her come to me herself?

This question kept me from my sleep near half the night. When I dozed at last, the queen's cold eyes played in my dreams, mingling together with glimpses I'd caught of her years before, when I was a child--dressed in her crimson cape or bending from her carriage window. I knew her little, and she knew even less of me. What could have prompted her attention? The strangeness of it caught in my throat, like bread swallowed down with no wine to follow.

The next morning, when I ventured forth, I asked after Hugh wherever I could. At first the reports of his death seemed mild, but news traveled slowly from across the channel, and I had to let the rumors mellow before the wilder tales surfaced. Then I heard riddles enough to confound Aristotle. The knights told me that Hugh had been stricken by God for having got drunk on the feast of the Assumption last August. The monks said he'd been thrown from his horse and trampled to death beneath its hooves. And his own page thought he had choked on a bowl of eels, prepared for him specially by the king's cooks.

These confused, dissimilar reports frightened me and made me wonder what veil of secrecy had been pulled around Hugh's death. My fear reminded me of a resolve I made four years before, at age thirteen, to never trust any living person in this world. It seemed my young husband might have survived his life better had he learned this lesson as well as I.

My earliest memory is of Nurse feeding me gruel with a horn spoon and me thrusting the spoon aside, just to see what would happen. My wedding was sometime later, when I passed my fifth birthday. I recall very little beyond the stiffness of the clothes I was made to wear and the weight of some jewels tugging at my headdress. I was taken by Nurse to kneel in the chapel, to smell the incense which even today can make me feel reverent. I saw Hugh beside me, looking miserable in his velvet tunic, his blond curls falling like tufts of wool against his brow. We had been raised as obedient children, so we knelt in our places and repeated the words we were told to say until finally it all finished, and we could run and skip again.

I recall Nurse telling me afterward that Hugh and I were married. She showed me a ring in a leather box, which she said was a symbol of it. I thought perhaps marriage meant that Hugh and I were brother and sister, for I knew other children who had siblings and longed to be like them. Nurse said yes, it was something like that. And from that day forward, I noticed that when I pushed my spoon rudely away, she stowed her reprimand and merely offered the spoon once more with a coaxing smile.

My childhood, as any childhood should be, was made up of small habits and smaller routines. Recitations to the tutor were followed by meals, followed by naps, followed by playtime. But like any child--or any adult looking back upon childhood--it is the odd changes that break out in memory, glowing among the dim grays of youth.

Christmas and Easter burn bright in hindsight. If King Henry and his lady, Queen Eleanor, were in England, they were sure to call every noble person to Westminster Castle for a grand court, so all might recollect the king's majesty and vigor. We lived far to the north of London, and while travel during the winter months is always bitter, our long journeys through snow and mud seemed scarcely survivable.

The empty scent of winter still brings those journeys to mind--the soreness of being jostled all day on an ill-fitting saddle, the outer wraps that froze stiff from the damp mist of breath. Worst of all were the hours spent waiting while the men pried vainly at a wagon wheel, stuck fast in the mud. I liked to watch the men at their work, to learn what I could about horses and wagons and while away the next hour imagining how I might loosen a stuck wheel, were I master of the cart.

Days would pass, the air would grow warmer, and we would arrive at London town and then Westminster, both of which have grown similarly crowded and muddy in memory. There, in a wink, the relentless cold was changed over for heat and noise and the merriment of Christmastime. The great stone walls were always stuffed thick with men and ladies decked in velvet, trimmed with fur, hung all about with their best brooches, mirrors, and tassels. Fires leapt up the chimney towers with flames higher than my head, and dogs, excited by excitement itself, ran barking through the halls. Within the castle all was good food, spiced wine, treats made of sugar, colored yellow with saffron. Everyone was loud and joyous, and my eyes couldn't move quickly enough to take it all in.

At these great courts I was generally called to pay my respects to Hugh's mother, Lady Pernelle of Sencaster. This lady, I've heard, once was lovely, but years of worry had tightened her face until she resembled a walnut shell, hard and fixed in its dents and wrinkles. She was effusive in her love for Hugh and, as my mother-in-law, regularly stared at me with what I called her gaze of "measuring up." It was plain that I would never approach whatever height I ought to reach and this left me feeling compressed in her presence. As a result I avoided her, taking up instead with Hugh, or climbing onto Nurse's knee instead of Lady Pernelle's. I suppose I alienated her by behaving thus, but children will act on instinct and rarely consider consequences.

Hugh moved in and out of my early life with the evenness of the tide. I was never surprised to see him; he was never surprised to see me. We simply picked up our play wherever we had left off the time before. In wintertime we threw balls of snow and slipped about on frozen lakes, and in summer we pranced on hobby horses or wove ourselves daisy chains. We were great friends. Once, at a meeting of some important people at Leicester town, we ran off and hid in the dovecote, pretending to be wild pigeons. I believe we had just perfected the art of cooing deep in our throats when it became dark and we, being young, fell asleep. Nurse found us there, well past midnight, surrounded by birds sleeping on their perches, with feathers matted in our hair.

I remember that night vividly, for when Nurse carried me away from the dovecote to my own place in our bed, the night air was freezing cold. I remember wanting to bury my face in her warm neck, but just then I looked up and saw the sky filled with more stars than I'd ever seen before. My thoughts of the cold vanished, and I gasped in silence at that great vision, so like a sheet of watery diamonds, glinting on rolling waves of the sky.

From the Hardcover edition.

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