Outlaw (The Outlaw Chronicles Series #1)

Outlaw (The Outlaw Chronicles Series #1)

by Angus Donald

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780312678364
Publisher: St. Martin's Press
Publication date: 04/12/2011
Series: Outlaw Chronicles Series , #1
Pages: 352
Sales rank: 382,653
Product dimensions: 5.40(w) x 8.20(h) x 1.00(d)

About the Author

Angus Donald was born in China in 1965 and educated at Marlborough College and Edinburgh University. He has worked as a fruit-picker in Greece, a waiter in New York and as an anthropologist studying magic and witchcraft in Indonesia. For the past 15 years, he has been a journalist in Hong Kong, India, Afghanistan and London.

Read an Excerpt

OUTLAW (Chapter 1)

A thin, sour rain is falling on the orchard outside my window, but I thank God for it. In these lean times, it is enough to warrant a fire in my chamber, a small blaze to warm my bones as I scratch out these lines in the gray light of a chill November day. My daughter-in-law Marie, who governs this household, is mean with firewood. The manor is mine, and there would be a decent, if not lavish living to be had for us on these lands if there were a young man or two to work them. But since my son Rob died last year of the bloody flux, a kind of weariness has settled upon me, robbing me of purpose. Though I am still hale and strong, thank the Lord, each morning it is a struggle to rise from my bed and begin the daily tasks. And since Rob’s death, Marie has become bitter, silent and thrifty. So, she has decreed, no chamber fires in daylight, unless it rains; meat but once a week; and daily prayers for his soul, morning and night. In my melancholy state, I cannot find the will to oppose her.

On Sundays, Marie doesn’t speak at all, just sits praying and contemplating the sufferings of Our Lord in the big, cold hall all day and then I rouse myself and take my grandson, my namesake Alan, out to the woods on the far edge of my land where he plays at being an outlaw and I sit and sing to him and tell him the stories of my youth: of my own carefree days outside the law, when I feared no King’s man, no sheriff nor forester, when I did as I pleased, took what I wanted, and followed the rule of none but my outlaw master: Robert Odo, the Lord of Sherwood.

I feel the cold now, at nearly threescore years, more than I ever did as that young man, and the damp; and now my old wounds ache for most of the winter. As I watch the gray rain drifting down on to my fruit trees, I clutch my fur-lined robe tighter against the chill air and my left hand drifts up the sleeve, over the corded swordsman’s muscles, and finds its way to a long, deep scar high on my right forearm. And stroking the tough, smooth furrow, I remember the terrible battle where I earned that mark.

I was on my back in a morass of blood and churned earth, half-blinded by sweat and my helmet, which had been knocked forward, my sword held pointing up at the sky in a hopeless gesture of defense as I gasped breathless on the ground. Above me, the huge, gray-mailed swordsman was slashing at my right arm. Time slowed to a crawl, I could see the slow sweep of his blade, I could see the bitter rage on his face, I could feel the bite of the metal through the padding of my sleeve into the flesh of my right arm, and then, out of nowhere, came Robin’s blocking sword-stroke, almost too late, but stopping the blade from slicing too deeply.

And, later, I recall Robin bandaging the wound himself, sweat-grimed, his own wounded face bleeding, and grinning at me as I winced in pain. He said, and I will remember his words until my death: “It seems that God really wants this hand, Alan. But I have denied it to him three times—and He shall never take it while I have strength.”

It was my right hand, my quill hand that he saved, and with this hand I plan to repay my debt to him. With this instrument, the Lord willing, I will write his story, and my story, and set before the world the truth about the vicious outlaw and master thief, the murderer, the mutilator and tender lover, the victorious Earl and commander of an army, and, ultimately, the great magnate who brought a King of England to a table at Runnymede and made him submit to the will of the people of the land; the story of a man I knew simply as Robin Hood.

*   *   *

Everyone in our village knew Robin was coming. Since the lord of the manor’s death last winter, the village had an almost perpetual holiday atmosphere: there was no authority to force them to work on the lord’s demesne and, after tending their own strips of land, the villagers had time on their hands. The alewife’s house was full all day and buzzing with talk of Robin’s exploits, adventures and atrocities. But very little truth was spoken and news was scant: merely that he would be arriving at dusk and he would see anyone who had business with him at the church that night, where he would hold his court.

I was above all this noise and nuisance, quite literally, as I was hiding in the hayloft above the stable at the back of my mother’s crumbling cottage in a den I’d built in the hay. I was thirteen summers old, I had a throbbing knot the size of a walnut on my forehead, a bloody nose, a bad cut on my cheek, and I was treating the terror that I felt with a large dose of absolute boredom. I’d been there since midafternoon when I had stumbled into our home, breathless, cut and bruised, having escaped the rough hands of the law and run the dozen miles from Nottingham across the fields all the way home.

We were poor, almost destitute and, after seeing my mother weeping with exhaustion one too many times after a day scratching a meager living gathering and selling firewood to her neighbors, I had decided to become a thief, more precisely a cutpurse: I cut the leather straps that secured men’s purses to their belts with a small knife that I kept as keen as a razor. Nine times out of ten, they never noticed until I was twenty yards away and lost in the thick crowds of Nottingham’s market place. When I returned home with a handful of silver pennies and placed them before my mother, she never asked where they had come from, but smiled and kissed me and hurried out to buy food. Though it had been necessity that drove me to take my daily bread from others, I found, God forgive me, that I was good at it, and liked it. In fact, I loved the thrill of the hunt; following a fat merchant as he waded through the market-day crowds, silent as his shadow, then the rough jostle, as if by accident, a quick slice and away before the man knew his purse was gone.

That day, however, I’d been stupid and I’d tried to steal a pie—a rich, golden-crusted beef pie, as big as my two fists—from a stall. I was hungry, as always, but overconfident too.

It was a ruse I had used before: I stood behind a blowsy alewife who was poking the wares on the stall and grumbling about their price; surreptitiously lobbed a small stone at the next stallholder along—a cheesemonger, if I remember rightly—hitting him full on the ear; and in the ensuing recriminations between stallholders, I swept the pie off the board and into my open satchel and sauntered away.

But the pieman’s apprentice, who’d been taking a piss behind their cart, came out just as I was scooping up my dinner and shouted: “Hi!” And everybody turned. So then it was “Stop thief!” and “Catch him, somebody!” as I squirmed like a maddened eel through the press of townsfolk until—crack!—I was knocked down by a cudgel to the forehead from some yokel and then grabbed ’round the neck by a passing man-at-arms. He punched me twice full in the face with his great mailed fist and my legs went limp.

When I came ’round, moments later, I was lying on the ground at the center of a jabbering crowd. Standing over me was the soldier, who wore the black surcoat with red chevrons of Sir Ralph Murdac, by the wrath of God, High Sheriff of Nottinghamshire, Derbyshire and the Royal Forests. And suddenly I was seized rigid with terror.

The soldier hauled me to my feet by my hair and I stood dazed and trembling while the scarlet-faced apprentice yammered out the tale of the stolen pie. My satchel was torn open and the circle of onlookers craned to see the incriminating object steaming gently, deliciously, at my waist. I still get jets of saliva in my mouth when I remember its glorious aroma.

Then, a wave of jostling and shouting, and the crowd parted, swept aside by the spears of a dozen men-at-arms, and into the space stepped a nobleman, dressed entirely in black, who seemed to move in his own personal circle of awe.

Though I had never seen him before, I knew immediately that this was Sir Ralph Murdac himself: the magnate who held Nottingham castle for the King and who also held the power of life and death over all the people in a huge swathe of central England. The crowd fell silent and I gawped at him, terrified, as he gazed calmly up and down my thin body, taking in my dirty blond hair, muddy face and ragged clothes. He was a slight man, not tall but handsome, with an athletic body clad in black silk tunic and hose, and a pitch-dark cloak, fixed with a golden clasp at his throat. In his right hand he held a riding whip; a yard-long black leather-covered rod tapering from an inch thick at the butt to the width of a bootlace. At his left side hung a silver-handled sword in a black leather scabbard. His face was clean-shaven, finely carved and framed with pure black hair, cut and curled neatly into a bowl shape. I caught a whiff of his perfume: lavender, and something musky. The palest blue eyes I had ever seen, cold and inhuman, seemed to glitter like frost beneath dark eyebrows. He pursed his red lips as he considered me. And suddenly all my fear receded, like a wave pulling back from the shingle of the beach … and I discovered that I hated him. I was filled with a cold stony loathing: I hated what he and his kind had done to me and my family. I hated his wealth, I hated his expensive clothes, his good looks, his perfumed perfection, and the arrogance that he was born to. I hated his power over me, his assumption of superiority, the truth of his superiority. I focused my hate in my stare. And I think he must have recognized my animosity. For an instant our eyes locked and then, with a jerk of his perfectly square chin, he looked away. At that moment, I sneezed, a colossal nasal bark so loud and sudden that it shocked everyone. Sir Ralph started, and glared at me in astonishment. I could feel snot and blood mingling in my battered nose. It began to run down the side of my mouth and on to my chin. I resisted the urge to lick at it. Murdac was silent, staring at me with utter contempt. Then he spoke very quietly: “Take this … filth … to the castle,” he said in English, but in a lisping French-accented whisper. And then, almost as an afterthought, he said directly to me: “Tomorrow, you disgusting fellow, we shall slice off that thieving hand.”

I sneezed again and a plump gobbet of bloody phlegm shot out and splattered on to his immaculate black cloak. He looked down in horror at the red-yellow mess, then, quick as a striking adder, he lashed me full in the face with his riding whip. The blow knocked me to my knees, and blood started to pour from a two-inch cut on my cheek. Through eyes misty with rage and pain, I looked up at Sir Ralph Murdac. He stared back at me for a second, his blue eyes strangely blank, then he dropped the riding whip in the mud, as if it had been contaminated with plague, turned smoothly away, hitched his cloak to a more comfortable position and swept through the surrounding rabble of townsfolk, who parted before him like the Red Sea before Moses.

As the man-at-arms started to drag me away by my wrist, I heard a woman cry: “That’s Alan, the widow Dale’s son. Have pity on him, he’s only a fatherless boy!” And the man paused, turning to speak to her, with my arm gripped in only one of his fists. And, as he turned, I focused my hatred, my anger, and I twisted my wrist against his grip, ripped it free, squirmed through a pair of legs and took to my heels. A fury of bellowing erupted behind me: men-at-arms shoving and cursing the people obstructing their path. I jinked right and left, sliding through the crowd, shoving past stout yeomen, dodging around the goodwives and their baskets. I created a tornado of confusion as the people reacted angrily to my passing. Men and women turned fast, furious at being shoved so roughly. Carts were knocked flying; pottery crashed to the ground; the hurdles containing a herd of sheep were smashed and the animals let loose to add their bleating to the tumult; and I was away and racing down a side alley, bursting through a blacksmith’s forge and out the other side, up a narrow street, squeezing between two big town houses, and turning left down another street until the noise subsided behind me. I stopped in the doorway of a church by the town wall and recovered my wind. There appeared to be no pursuit. Then, fighting to calm my hammering heart, I walked as coolly as I could, my hood pulled forward, a hand held casually over my cut and bruised face, out of the town gate, past the dozing watchman, and on to the winding road that led into the thick woodland. Once out of sight, I ran. I ran like the wind, despite my pounding head, and a sick feeling churning my guts. I gave it my all till our village came into sight around a bend in the road. As I paused to catch my breath, I found I was clutching my right wrist tightly. I still had my arm, praise God, I still had my light fingers. I still had the pie, too.

*   *   *

As I lay in the hayloft, nursing my cut and bruised face, I ran images of the day again in my head. There had been no pursuit on the road out of Nottingham, as far as I could tell, but the woman in the market had known me and so it wouldn’t be long, I realized—probably the next morning—before the sheriff’s men came for me at my mother’s cottage.

So that night, my mother took me to see Robin.

The village was dark, except for a ring of torches around the old church at the northern end of the village. Our church was not grand—it was not much bigger than a village house, but built of thick stone with a thatched roof. We had no priest as the village was too poor to support his living—it was scarcely more than a hamlet, truth be told. But on holy festivals, Easter, Michaelmas, Christmas and the like, a junior cleric would come from Nottingham and hold a Mass. And, sure as man is born to die, after the harvest, the Bishop’s man would come to collect our tithes.

As it was the largest, most solid building in the village, we also used it for meetings and, in the recent Anarchy between King Stephen and the Empress Maud, it had sheltered the villagers from roving bands of warriors intent on slaughter and pillage. In those dark days, a wise man, the saying went, kept his coin buried, his dress plain and his daughters inside.

Since King Henry came to the throne, thirty-four years ago, England had known a kind of peace. We no longer had to contend with marauding bands of rebel soldiers, but we did have to bow our heads to Sir Ralph Murdac’s men-at-arms. And they could be just as rapacious, especially now that the King was abroad, fighting against his son Duke Richard of Aquitaine and Philip Augustus, the King of France. Our Henry had appointed Ranulf de Glanville to rule as Justiciar and England, many a villager muttered, was no longer well governed. Ranulf, it was said, loved silver and gold and would appoint anyone—even the Devil himself—to the post of sheriff if he could pay, and continue paying handsomely for the office. He had been a sheriff himself and he knew exactly how much tax silver could be squeezed from a county. And so we were squeezed until the pips squeaked. Certainly Ralph Murdac, who had been appointed by Glanville, was said to be making a goodly fortune for the Justiciar, and for himself.

On that spring night, a throng of villagers had gathered outside the church and a few at a time were going inside as others came out. My mother pushed through the crowd, dragging me in her wake. And as we approached the great door of the church, I saw that it was guarded by a giant. He didn’t speak but held out one vast hand, palm facing us. And we stopped as if we had run into an invisible wall.

The doorkeeper was a truly enormous man, yellow-haired, with a quarterstaff in one great paw and a long dagger, almost a sword, at his belt. He looked down on us, nodded and, with a half-smile, said: “Mistress, what brings you here—what business have you with him?”

My mother answered: “It’s my son, Alan.” She gestured at me. “They are coming for him, John.”

The giant nodded again: “Wait over there,” he rumbled, and indicated a group of twenty or so, men and women, some children too, waiting by the side of the church.

We stood with the others and my mother spat on to a scrap of cloth and began to dab at my face trying to clean off some of the dirt and caked blood. I lived pretty wild then—rarely returning home unless I had a little silver or food to bring my mother, sleeping rough in ill-lit corners of Nottingham town or in country hayricks and barns. Since my father Harry died, four years ago, hanged by Murdac’s soldiers, I had rarely bothered with ablutions and, to be honest, I was filthy. My father had been an odd man, learned and musical, wise and courteous, and strangely fastidious about having clean nails and hair. But when I was nine years old, they had hanged him as a common thief.

The soldiers had burst through the door of our cottage just before dawn and grabbed my father, ripping him from the big straw mattress on which the whole family slept, and bundling him out on to the street. Without the slightest formality, they tied his hands behind his back and strung him up by the neck on the big spreading oak tree in the center of the village, next to the ale house, as an example to the rest of us. He took many minutes to die and he soiled himself—piss dripping from his kicking bare heels—as he swung twitching from the rope in the half-light. My father tried to keep eye contact with me as he died, but, God forgive me, I turned away from his hideous swollen face and bulging eyes and hid my face in my hands. May the Lord have mercy on his soul. And mine.

When the soldiers had gone, we cut him down and buried him and I don’t believe I ever saw my mother happy again after that day. She told me many stories about him, an effort, I think, to keep his memory alive in his children. He had traveled the world, my mother said, and been well educated; at one time he had been a cleric in France, a singer in the great new cathedral of Notre Dame that they are building in Paris. Before he died, my father had made efforts to teach me to read and write in English, French and Latin. He had beaten me on many occasions, though never hard, to get the words to take root in my head but, at the end of many, many hours I was still more interested in running free in the countryside than slaving over a slate. I will always remember his music, though, even as his face grows hazy after so many years, and how his singing filled the house with joy. I remember how we would sing, the whole family, by the fire of an evening; my mother and father so happy together.

As she pawed at my dirty face with her spit-dampened cloth, I saw that the tears were once again running down my mother’s face. I was the last of her family: my father dead; my younger sisters Aelfgifu and Coelwyn both died within weeks of each other two summers ago after a short, agonizing illness in which they had vomited blood and voided a black stinking liquid. And now I, her only surviving child, might be taken by the law tomorrow and have my hand hacked off. Or worse: hanged like my father as a thief.

I must confess that, at that moment, outside the church with my weeping mother, I felt not fear of the sheriff’s men, nor sorrow at the deaths of my father and sisters—the uppermost emotion in my heart was excitement. Robert, Lord of Sherwood, was here; Robin Hood: that great and terrible man, feared by Norman lords and English villagers alike. He was a man who preyed on the rich, stealing their silver and killing their servants as they passed through his realm; a man who, scorning Sir Ralph Murdac, did as he pleased in the great Royal Forest of Nottingham, who was, in fact, its true ruler. And in a short while, I would be before him.

As I looked up at the church door, I noticed something amiss. A dark lump had been affixed above the lintel. In the flickering light of the torches, I could just make out what it was. It was the severed head of a young wolf, eyes still open and glittering madly in the torchlight. A huge nail had been hammered through its forehead, transfixing it to the wood. Either side of the head and on the doorposts, black blood had been smeared. I felt a sense of almost unbearable excitement, a euphoria soaring up through my lungs and into my head. He had dared to desecrate the church with the body of an animal, to make it, for one night, his own. He dared to risk his immortal soul with a pagan symbol in the sacred precincts of our Mother Church. This was a fearless man indeed.

At last, after what seemed several hours, the giant beckoned us and pushed open the doors of the church. My excitement had reached a fever pitch and, although my bruised head was throbbing, I held it high as we walked inside.

Scores of thick tallow candles had been lit and, after the darkness outside, it was surprisingly bright in the church, which was half-filled with villagers and a sprinkling of grim-looking strangers, with hoods pulled forward over their faces, some standing, some seated on wooden benches around the walls. A clerk, a middle-aged man of thirty or so, sat at a small table to one side of the church, scribbling on a roll of parchment. And a great wooden chair had been set immediately below the altar.

In the chair sat an ordinary-looking young man, slim, in his early twenties, with nondescript brown hair, and dressed in a badly dyed, patched dark green tunic and hose and partially wrapped in a gray cloak. His clothes were no different to any man in our village—they were, perhaps, even more drab. It was a shock. Where was the great man? Where was the Lord of the Wood? He wore no sword, no gold, no rings, no signs at all of his status and power, except that behind him stood two tall, hooded men each with a long sword and six-foot bow. I was deeply unimpressed; this was no outlaw lord; he looked like a villein, like me. An image of Sir Ralph Murdac leaped into my mind: his costly black silks, his lavender scent, his air of superiority. And then I looked again at the ordinary man in front of me.

He was leaning forward, eyes closed, elbow on the arm of the chair, his chin cupped in his hand, fingers wrapped around his cheek, listening to a short, very broad man with reddish brown hair, in the coarse robes of a monk, who was speaking quietly and earnestly into his ear. The monk finished speaking and came over to us. Robin sat back, sighed, and opened his eyes. He looked directly at me and I saw that his eyes were as gray as his cloak, almost silver in the candlelight. Then he closed his eyes again and fell back into contemplation.

“My name is Tuck,” said the monk in a strange, sing-song accent, which I took to be Welsh. “How can I be of service to you?”

My mother held out her hand to the monk: in it was a single hen’s egg. “It’s my son,” she said, all in a rush. “The sheriff’s men are coming for him; and they’ll cut his hand off or hang him for sure. Take him with you, Brother. Keep him safe under the protection of the Lord of the Wood. Sanctuary, Brother. For the love of God, give him sanctuary in the forest.”

I looked into the Welsh monk’s eyes: they were mellow, light brown, the color of hazelnuts, sad and kind. He took the egg and slipped it into an open pouch on his belt, not bothering to buckle it shut.

“Why are they coming for you?” he asked me.

My mother began gabbling: “It’s all a misunderstanding; a mistake; he’s a good boy, naughty sometimes, yes…”

Brother Tuck ignored her. He asked again: “Why are they coming for you, boy?”

I looked him straight in the eye: “I stole a pie, sir,” I said as calmly as I could, my heart beating like a Moorish drum.

“Do you know that stealing is a sin?” he asked.

“Yes, sir.”

“And yet you stole anyway—why?”

“I was hungry and, and … it’s what I do—thieving. It’s what I do best. Better than almost anyone.”

Tuck snorted, amused. “Better than almost anyone, eh? I very much doubt that. You were caught, weren’t you? Well, there must be penance. All sins must be paid for.”

“Yes, sir.”

Tuck took me by the arm, not unkindly, and led me forward to Robin’s chair. The Lord of the Wood opened his eyes and looked at me again. And I completely forgot his drab exterior, his homespun villein’s garb. His eyes were extraordinarily bright: it was like staring at the full moon, two silver full moons. The rest of the world dissolved, time stood still, and it was just me and Robin in a dark universe lit only by his eyes; he seemed to be drinking me in through his stare, discovering me, understanding my sins and my strengths.

When he spoke it was in a musical voice, light but strong: “They tell me you chanced your arm for a pie?”

I nodded. He said: “And you wish to serve me? You wish me to take you under my protection?” I was mute; I made the barest tilt of my head.

“Why?”

I was taken aback by his question: he must know that I needed to escape the law, that I needed sanctuary, and yet I sensed that he wanted a less obvious answer. I looked into his silver eyes and decided to tell the truth, as I had to Tuck. “I am a thief, sir,” I said, “and I would serve under the greatest thief of all, the better to learn my trade.”

There was a sharp intake of breath, all around the church. It occurred to me belatedly that perhaps Robin did not care to regard himself as a common felon. One of the hooded men behind Robin half-drew his sword but stopped when Robin raised a pacifying hand.

“You flatter me,” said the Lord of the Wood. His voice had grown cold, his extraordinary eyes now blazed like naked steel. “But that was not what I meant by my question. I did not mean why would you wish to serve me. I meant why should I take you on; why should I burden myself with another hungry mouth?”

I could think of no reason. So I hung my head and said nothing. He continued, his voice as chill as a grave: “Can you fight like a knight, clad in hard steel, dealing death to my enemies from the back of a great horse?”

I remained silent.

“Can you draw a war bow to full stretch, and kill a man with one arrow at two hundred paces?”

He knew that I could not; few grown men could achieve such a feat, and I was then a slight boy.

“So what can you offer me, little thief?” The mockery dripped from his voice.

I lifted my chin and stared back at him, little spots of anger on my cheeks. “I will give you my skill as a cutpurse, my willingness to fight for you as best I may, and my absolute loyalty until death,” I said, far too loudly for the confines of the small church.

“Loyalty until death?” said Robin. “That truly is a rare and valuable thing.” His voice seemed to have lost its scorn. He considered me for a few heartbeats. “That was a good answer, thief. What is your name?”

“I am Alan Dale, sir,” I said.

He looked surprised. “Is your father’s name Henry?” he said. “The singer?” I nodded. I couldn’t bring myself to tell Robin that my father was dead. He was silent for a while, regarding me with those great silver eyes. Then he said: “He’s a good man. You have his resemblance.” Suddenly, he smiled—as shocking as a blast of a trumpet—white teeth gleaming in the dim church. His coldness slid away like the shedding of a cloak, and he was transformed. I knew by his sudden warmth that he would take me and I felt my heart bound with joy.

“And by the way, young Alan, I am not a thief,” said Robin, still smiling. “I merely take what is my rightful due.” There was a murmur of gentle laughter around the church.

Tuck lightly touched my elbow, guiding me away from the great chair: “Say God-be-with-you to your mother, boy, you’re with us now.”

As we walked back to my mother by the church door, I found my legs had become weak and shaky beneath me and I stumbled against Tuck’s side before he caught me and held me upright. Then I kissed my mother, hugged her, muttered good-bye, and watched as she walked outside into the dark and out of my life forever.

As the church door closed behind her, Tuck said: “Not bad, little thief. But I’ll have that egg back now, boy, if you please.” And, as he held out his open palm, he was smiling.

*   *   *

I waited at the side of the church on a bench next to the clerk and his table of parchments. On the far side of the table was a heap of produce from local farms, tribute offered to Robin: several cheeses; loaves of bread; a basket of eggs; two barrels of ale; a honeycomb in a wooden bowl; two chickens, tied together at the legs; numerous sacks of fruit and even a purse of silver pennies; a kid was tied to the table leg and it kept trying to nibble the parchment—at which the clerk would slap at its muzzle without raising his head. He was a thin man, balding, and his long fingers were covered in ink spots. Then he looked up from his scribbling: “I’m Hugh Odo,” he said, smiling kindly at me. “Robert’s brother. Wait quietly here until our business is concluded.”

I looked to my right and noticed a human form on the floor in the corner of the church and a tall hooded man next to him, armed with long sword and a great bow, standing guard. The man on the floor was bound tightly, hands and legs. I noticed that he was actually shaking with fear. He was moaning inaudibly through a cloth gag. His wild staring gaze caught mine for a few moments and I looked away, embarrassed and a little frightened by his naked terror.

The rest of the night, I waited, sitting there in silence at the side of the church, watching Robin hold his court. A steady stream of villagers came in, spoke respectfully to Robin, received his judgment and paid their fines to Hugh. It was a shadowy nighttime version of the manorial court in which, before his death, our local lord had dispensed justice. One woman’s herd of pigs had damaged a neighbor’s crops; she was ordered to pay a fine to the neighbor, four piglets, and to pay Robin a piglet for his justice. She agreed to pay without question. The man who had seduced his best friend’s wife had to pay him a milk cow in compensation, and a fresh cheese to Robin. Again there was no argument.

As Robin dispensed petty justice all that long night, the mound of produce became larger: some, as poor as my mother, paid only an egg or two; one man, who had accidentally killed another in an ale house fight, led a bull calf over to the table and tied it next to the goat. I eyed the purse of silver; it was lying on the table near to where I was sitting. Hugh the clerk was busy in his parchment roll and I could have had it easily. But some instinct stayed my arm. Finally there were no more supplicants and Robin rose from his chair and came over to the table to look down on the bound man.

“Take him outside; do it there in front of everyone,” he said to the hooded man-at-arms, his voice flat. And then he turned aside to talk to Hugh, who began showing him the parchment roll. The bound man was lifted on to his feet by two men; at first he was docile and then he began struggling wildly, writhing, twisting his body like a man possessed, as he realized he was about to meet his fate. One of the hooded men punched him in the stomach, a blow that knocked him breathless to the floor, and then he was dragged outside.

Tuck came over and took me by the arm; he led me out of the door and ’round the corner of the church. There, as I looked on, Robin’s men forced the bound wretch to his knees. He was sobbing and choking on the cloth that had been shoved into his mouth and tied there with a long strip of leather.

“You must watch this,” said Brother Tuck. “This is your penance.” A small crowd had formed to observe. The man’s eyes, huge with terror, rolled in his head. John the giant came over to the man. He pulled the sodden gag out of his mouth and wedged a thin iron bar, crossways, at the back of his mouth, over his tongue, hard up against the hinge of his teeth. One of the men-at-arms strapped the bar in place, with the leather strip that had been used to gag him. The victim was moaning loudly, half-choking and writhing his body, eyes closed, mouth grotesquely forced open by the iron bar. He might have been laughing. The two men behind the wretch steadied his head, and held it still with the iron bar. John produced a pair of iron tongs from his pouch and seized the man’s tongue by the tip. In his other hand he held a short knife, razor sharp.

I knew what was coming and a wave of nausea burned my stomach. In my mind, my own right arm was on a block in Nottingham castle, an axeman standing over me, the axe swinging high and … I turned my head away from the victim before me, choking back bile … Then I felt two strong hands grasp my own jaws and force my head back toward the scene in front of me. The victim’s eyes opened and he stared at me for an instant. He was grotesque, like a stone demon on the side of a church: huge gaping mouth and his tongue pulled out by the tongs. “This is your penance,” repeated Tuck quietly, keeping his powerful hands ’round my face, forcing me to look. “See how Robin serves those who inform on him to the sheriff. Watch and take heed!” And John the giant sliced through the thick root of the tongue, with one sweep, and then dodged quickly as a fountain of blood roared from the man’s mouth. The man was screaming, a bubbling liquid howl of livid pain and, released by his captors, he fell to the ground, still tightly trussed, bellowing and jetting gore from the bloody cave of his gaping mouth.

I wrenched my head away from Tuck’s hands and staggered to the wall of the church where, my head reeling with disgust and horror, I retched and puked, and brought up the remains of the beef pie that had brought me to this present situation. After a while, when there was nothing more in my stomach, I leaned my forehead on the cool stone of the church wall and gulped down the cold night air.

As my head cleared, I realized fully for the first time what I had promised when I swore loyalty until death to Robin. I was now bound for life to a monster, a devil who mutilated others for merely speaking to the sheriff’s men. I knew then that I had left the world of ordinary men.

I had become an outlaw.

OUTLAW. Copyright 2009 by Angus Donald.

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Outlaw 3.7 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 38 reviews.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I like it when the author does all the hard research work and blends it into a riproaring good book. Thank you for writing as true to life as you could and still write an excellent, juicy, rollicking good novel. Great Histrical fiction...
drummer1109 More than 1 year ago
As a fan that has read all of the books that Angus Donald has to offer, I cannot help but recommend this book anyone who enjoys a realistic, gritty, non-flowery run of the mill tale of Robin Hood and his band of outlaws. Donald offers a way to see Robin Hood in a way in which he has without a doubt ever been seen before. Angus Donald has an uncanny ability to put his readers within the trees of Sherwood, shadowing the deeds of this band of men.  Told from the perspective of Allan Dale, this series offers a totally new twist on the tale. Beautifully synced with history throughout the entire series, this book and the books to follow are definitely hard to put down. Can't wait to see what more this amazing author has to offer in the series! 
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Outlaw and the other books in the series are simply excellent. The characters are richly textured and come to life in a challenging and vibrant setting. Author Angus Donald has created an amazing work which is equal parts drama, adventure and suspense. I've read Outlaw, Holy Warrior and am now enjoying King's Man. Every aspect in the life of Alan Dale, Robin Hood and those around them, is superbly well-crafted. The Outlaw series just gets better with every page.
fljustice More than 1 year ago
Growing up, the legend of Robin Hood was everywhere as the ultimate hero who stood up for the little guy against evil oppressors: corrupt sheriffs and greedy churchmen. We all knew the stories of loyal Little John, the strong right hand man; tipsy Friar Tuck; Will Scarlet, handy with a sword; Alan A-Dale the minstrel; and the chaste, beautiful and smart Maid Marian, Robin's enduring love. It's an iconic tale of good vs. evil and "happily-ever-afters" that attracts artists back to the theme over and over. It's very hard to bring something new or fresh to the story. Which brings me to "Outlaw." All the traditional pieces are in place: time, setting, characters. The story is told in first person by Alan Dale as an old man recounting his youthful adventures with the outlawed Robin: "With this instrument, the Lord willing, I will write his story, and my story, and set before the world the truth about the vicious outlaw and master thief, the murderer, the mutilator, and tender lover, the victorious Earl and commander of an army, and ultimately, the great magnate who brought a King of England to the table at Runnymede and made him submit to the will of the people of the land; the story of a man I knew simply as Robin Hood." Yes, you read right "the vicious outlaw and master thief, the murderer, the mutilator." Robin, in Donald's, tale is a mafia don. A younger son of nobility, outlawed for torturing and murdering a priest who abused him. According to Friar Tuck a "cold-hot man.with the raging power of anger but the icy control of a calm man.the most dangerous of all." Our first glimpse of Robin is him holding court, in a scene reminiscent of "The Godfather." Peasants bring their protection money (food, drink, armaments, supplies.) Robin settles disputes between neighbors and metes out justice to an informer, by cutting out his tongue. The Merry Men are a bunch of tough enforcers. In this story, Robin Hood steals from the rich, but not because he identifies with, or wants to help the poor, but because.well.they're rich. You know the answer to the old joke about why the thief robbed the bank? "That's where the money is." And Robin needs money. He uses his stolen cash to fund his loan-shark business, with the local Jews as fronts (usury being forbidden to Christians.) As the story unfolds, we get a picture of a complicated man: educated for that age, shrewd, intelligent, ruthless, a brilliant strategist with a chivalric love and a taste for good music. Robin, a scion of the ruling class, is a man with a plan. Ailing King Henry II and his likely heir Richard are bankrupting the country with their wars. Robin plans to buy a title from a desperate ruler, restore his respectability and marry his loyal love Marie-Anne. While trying to accomplish this goal, Donald gives us a rollicking story: ambushes, intrigue, a traitor, and strange denizens of the deep forest; court life, troubadours and Templars. We learn about medieval weapons, class divisions, food, clothing, and pagan rituals. It's fast-paced with well-developed characters, plot twists, and an exciting climax. I read the second half of the book straight through. It's a well-told tale. I'd recommend it to anyone who likes historical fiction and enjoys a different take on an old story. But don't expect your childhood Robin!
dhaupt More than 1 year ago
It's long been debated whether Robin Hood actually existed, in a 14th Century poem he makes an appearance and in the 15th Century he's been mentioned in ballads but whether he's fact or fiction doesn't seem to lessen his popularity as he's been immortalized in print, song, poem and in present times on film. One of the reasons he stays alive for us is because of the astute storytelling ability of some of his tale-tellers like for example this one. In this fictionalized tale of Robin Hood we may find the most truthful version yet in Outlaw, the first in a new series by Angus Donald first published in the UK. Between the years 1188 and 1189 is the timeline in this novel, Robin is the still the ultimate outlaw, he's still madly in love with lady Marie-Anne and is public enemy number 1 with the Sheriff of Nottingham, we'll find all the usual cohorts too including Tuck and Little John in addition to a few new names to add to the lore. Angus Donald brings us his vision of the ultimate noir hero in "Outlaw", book number one in the Legend of Robin Hood series. He gives us the bigger than life hero/villain but shows him in a more realistic light, emphasizing the cruelty and barbarism of the 12th Century in the guise of authority, he shows us the leftover paganism melded with the Christian world and he shows us beauty the likes of which may no longer exist in this world and in fact showing a more factual Robin Hood who would have lived, loved and thieved in England in the late 1100's. The novel is narrated by Alan Dale, Robin's troubadour who was taken under wing as a young teen after being caught stealing in Nottingham and saved from certain death by the Sheriff. The dialogue is conversational, interesting and descriptive, readers will be able to picture Alan as an old man recounting his tumultuous youth, writing down the good, the bad and the ugly in excerpts as he also lets us know what's going on in his present. The characters in this adventure go above and beyond in their portrayals as we get legend, myth and history in one piece of work. This is far from the Robin Hood of our youths on TV or in the movies, this is truly an adult story with explicit scenes of violence and sex, so keep that in mind as you choose where to store it and who to share it with. If you like your folklore with a huge slice of realism packed with danger, adventure, drama and action, Angus Donald is your man. If you love historical fiction with a bite this is for you. If you like your myths and legends on the wild side, here you go.
JGolomb More than 1 year ago
Angus Donald's historical fiction "Outlaw" is an exciting middle-age tale set in the forests of England. Knights in gleaming armor battle on horseback, while beautiful ladies await the return of their loves in a countryside of castles and manors. At the center of the story sits the legendary Robin Hood. But Donald's Hood is not the singing cartoon Hood of Disney, nor the 90's Robin of Kevin Costner. This Robin Hood has gone hardcore and there's more than a little bit of Godfather in him. Oh, he still lives in Sherwood and takes from the rich and gives to the poor, but he does so with a much bloodier dose of fear. This Robin Hood also has a solid understanding of the fundamentals of public relations and propaganda. It's known wide and far that if you cross Robin once you're part of his merry band, you can expect a very bloody and tortuous end. Though "General" Hood sits as the centerpiece of this tights & bows adventure, the real star is Alan Dale who narrates the story as an old man - a grandfather - pondering and reflecting on his life as an Outlaw. Alan's voice is written earnestly and with heart. You ache and relate to his misplaced feelings of love for Robin's betrothed Marie-Anne. You feel a real sense of intimacy with the character as his tale is spun first person throughout. Dale is the strongest character is the book, as Donald seems to have favored action sequences over more involved secondary character development. Religious themes are significant in Donald's world of 12-century England. Conflict persists between the regal and noble Christianity and the earthy and tribal religions of Robin's followers. Robin himself straddles both theological worlds and only commits himself to one or the other as circumstances see fit. This ecumenical tug of war is a cause of great internal strain for the young Dale as he tussles with his heart, morals, and growing admiration for Robin. Robin understands the politics of religion and also uses Catholic disillusionment to rally country-folk to his side. Likewise, he's happy to play the role of the good Catholic when needing the support and backing of the English aristocracy. Donald's Robin Hood his guilty of some stilted and corny dialogue, but the action sequences are bloody and fresh, and keep the story rolling at a rapid pace. Donald's world is very boldly drawn, and the violence is vivid and tense. I wouldn't recommend this story for the feint of heart. This is a strong entrant into the world of action historical fiction.in a similar vein to Conn Iggulden's "Genghis" series, and stronger than Iggulden's "Emperor" novels. It's great escapist reading, and while I won't line up to read the sequel the day it comes out, I'm definitely looking forward to reading more. [I received a free copy of "Outlaw" from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program]
joririchardson on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
"Outlaw" tells the familiar story of Robin Hood in a new light. In 12th Century England, Robin is revered as a sort of rogue king by the people of the land. After a young man named Alan is caught stealing, he is taken in by the band of outlaws and begins training as a swordsman. In this book, Robin Hood is not a merry adventurer, and even the basic premise of stealing from the rich and giving to the poor is mostly taken out. Instead, Robin is truly like a king, not in the sense of majesty and glorification, but in the sense that with his power comes much responsibility and decisions to which, many times, there are no right answers. The men constantly trying to capture him could be viewed as enemies perpetually trying to steal his "throne." Even though the details are never explicitly spelled out, it appears that Robin offers to protect villages in exchange for taxation rights. Those who disobey his laws are punished severely. We don't see that much of the inner-workings of Robin's "reign," so I am not sure how successful it is proving. But in one memorable scene, Robin and his men come upon a smoldering village that has been raided and burnt down. A woman tells him spitefully that he promised to protect them.I didn't dislike this book, or particularly like it either. I got through it quickly and easily, and the pacing was quick, with a lot of action. Though I was never bored, I always felt a sort of distance from the story.First of all, I didn't really like the main character Alan. He is the typical warrior-in-training: over eager for battle and glory, falls in love for the first time, shows talent of course, attracts the eye of Robin Hood for his skills, and thus thinks himself quite important and goes around for the rest of the book acting like a noble (but not battle hardened) man. In many situations, he takes drastic measures with ordinary problems. When he needs money, he steals an enormous ruby from a man who is hospitably letting him stay in his home. When he considers paying a prostitute to help him lose his virginity, he actually does so right away, and then a second time again. When a boy taunts and annoys him, Alan intentionally tries to get him killed by accusing him of betraying his father. I thought that he took things quite far, and was surprised at the end to see none of this come back with any consequences.*Spoilers, you can skip the rest of this paragraph* The boy who taunted him, Guy, was a bully and not a likable character, but so what? He wasn't that bad, and Alan should have just shrugged and moved on. Instead, he falsely accuses the boy of serious crime and plants evidence to back up his claim. Later, when they meet up again, he volunteers to duel the boy in front of Robin's band. I expected him to defeat the bully, but to show mercy and not actually kill him. So much for that - not only does Alan kill him, he whispers into the dying boy's ear that he was the one who planted false evidence on him, and to take that knowledge to Hell.Gosh! Were a few taunts about Alan not being manly really worthy of all THAT? I was pretty surprised, and kept wondering if there was some hideously evil side to the bully that I had missed.Another thing that I thought was very much missing from the story was a detailing of how Robin's band and rule actually worked. We see people paying him taxes in a scene at the beginning, and we see him doling out punishment. We see him fighting a lot of battles. But these are only the thinnest shades of the establishment and keeping of a kingdom, even such a small one. For a few chapters, Alan is sent to court as a spy, and there he meets Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, who is depicted as prickly and strict, but fair. I was surprised that she appears to know all about Lady Marie-Anne (Donald's Maid Marian) being engaged to Robin. And Marie-Anne is one of her ladies in waiting. Eleanor even seems to know that recently, Marie-Anne went to see Robin. If he is such an enemy of the official rulers
queencersei on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
Outlaw adds another chapter to the long list of Robin Hood novels. This addition tries to incorporate some of the history of twelfth century England into the tale. The story is told through the eyes of the young cut-purse Alan Dale. Caught stealing by the Sherriff of Nottingham, Alan manages to flee into the safety of Sherwood forest where he joins Robin Hoods band of outlaws. While Alan Dale's story is engaging, readers get a different perspective of Robin Hood. Gone is the hero of movies and fables. In this incarnation Robin Hood is a brave, daring and blood thirsty killer, who has turned his back on society and become the King of the Forest for some not very well sketched out reasons. And this is where the story stumbles a bit. While the battle scenes are frequent and bloody, the romanticism and heroism of the legendary Robin Hood is missing. While the more famous of the merry men are mentioned, Little John, Friar Tuck, Much the Millar's son, their characters are only give some mention here and there. Maid Marian, or Marie-Anne in this version, gets a bit more fleshing out, character wise.While, lovers of Robin Hood stories may find this one a bit lacking in places, over all Outlaw gets the job done as a mediaeval tale of daring and danger.
atimco on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
My first impression of Angus Donald's Outlaw was that the writing wasn't very good. The first paragraph is laced heavily with adjectives ¿ usually a sign of an author trying too hard to impress ¿ which boded ill for the rest of the book. But oddly enough, the writing seemed to improve as the story went on. Either that or I became so engrossed in the plot that I stopped noticing the style. Narrated by a young Alan Dale, this gritty version of the Robin Hood legend is a gripping story of outlawry, murder, and adventure in 12th-century England.At the center of the story is the enigmatic Robin. This is what is known as a "realistic" take on a romanticized legend. Here, Robin Hood is no merry outlaw dressed in green and lightheartedly poaching the king's deer and teasing the king's fat bishops. Oh no. This Robin Hood, as a boy, horrifically tortures and kills his abusive teacher. This Robin Hood chops off three limbs of a rival outlaw leader who dares to overstep his boundaries. This Robin Hood kills men in cold blood, often cruelly. Rape and prostitution and other beastly acts abound and are described in great detail. Maybe all of this vulgarity is more realistic than the familiar legends ¿ but I prefer the more civilized tradition, thanks.I only made it a little more than halfway through before putting it down. I wasn't planning to drop the book; the story, though gruesome and explicit in many ways, does compel you to keep reading. But putting it down for a bit made me consider its most memorable elements, and as those for me were all graphically violent and/or sexual in nature, it just wasn't worth it to continue filling my mind with these ugly things.Fans of Bernard Cornwell will likely enjoy Donald's work. The historical details are probably well researched, and it isn't all relentless blood and death and sex. But be sure you like your action bloody and your romance earthy before you pick up this book!
JeffV on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
Swords. Babes. And even a little sorcery...or at least pagan poetry. Outlaw - A Novel of Robin Hood combines the realism of a historical novel with a pop-culture fictional character to great effect. The story follows one of Robin's merry men -- Alan Dale, from his escape as a petty thief to his training and maturity as one of Robin's trusted warriors. Robin is already established as a larger-than-life character, a champion of oppressed people, and, of course, the object of the notorious Sheriff of Nottingham's ire. All is not black and white, however. Robin loses some of his luster engaging in pagan rituals and ruthlessly carrying out his own form of justice. Young Alan struggles to reconcile this great, beloved person with the demons that surface as needed. He learns that to be a warrior is to kill or be killed. And while he never becomes entirely comfortable on the battlefield, he acquits himself well in the end.Unlike most historical novels, this one seems "one and done." The story we are most familiar with has come and gone. Alan is still young, however, and he is recounting this story as an old man. Meanwhile, our hero Robin has become "respectable", a confidant of Richard the Lionheart and his mother, Eleanor of Aquitaine. And I do believe he's agreed to take up the cloth and do battle alongside the Knights Templar in their battles against the Saracens under Saladin. Perhaps another, not-so-familiar tale is forthcoming?
plunkinberry on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
This story was too short for the complexity of the story and the characters. I found myself wanting to know a LOT more about Alan Dale ¿ the main character and narrator. I love Robin Hood, so automatically, I like this story. Mr. Donald did this in a way that I did enjoy ¿ gritty and real, not overly unrealistic with too much chivalry and courtesy. The story painted a somewhat different picture of Robin and his men, many of the names I¿ve grown accustomed to were still there, just how they joined the band of outlaws was different. I would have expected a somewhat more complex story that was longer ¿ this story could easily merely be part one of a lengthy saga, but I don¿t know that. If it is, I will definitely read the remaining stories.
dhaupt on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
It¿s long been debated whether Robin Hood actually existed, in a 14th Century poem he makes an appearance and in the 15th Century he¿s been mentioned in ballads but whether he¿s fact or fiction doesn¿t seem to lessen his popularity as he¿s been immortalized in print, song, poem and in present times on film. One of the reasons he stays alive for us is because of the astute storytelling ability of some of his tale-tellers like for example this one.In this fictionalized tale of Robin Hood we may find the most truthful version yet in Outlaw, the first in a new series by Angus Donald first published in the UK.Between the years 1188 and 1189 is the timeline in this novel, Robin is the still the ultimate outlaw, he¿s still madly in love with lady Marie-Anne and is public enemy number 1 with the Sheriff of Nottingham, we¿ll find all the usual cohorts too including Tuck and Little John in addition to a few new names to add to the lore.Angus Donald brings us his vision of the ultimate noir hero in ¿Outlaw¿, book number one in the Legend of Robin Hood series. He gives us the bigger than life hero/villain but shows him in a more realistic light, emphasizing the cruelty and barbarism of the 12th Century in the guise of authority, he shows us the leftover paganism melded with the Christian world and he shows us beauty the likes of which may no longer exist in this world and in fact showing a more factual Robin Hood who would have lived, loved and thieved in England in the late 1100¿s. The novel is narrated by Alan Dale, Robin¿s troubadour who was taken under wing as a young teen after being caught stealing in Nottingham and saved from certain death by the Sheriff. The dialogue is conversational, interesting and descriptive, readers will be able to picture Alan as an old man recounting his tumultuous youth, writing down the good, the bad and the ugly in excerpts as he also lets us know what¿s going on in his present. The characters in this adventure go above and beyond in their portrayals as we get legend, myth and history in one piece of work.This is far from the Robin Hood of our youths on TV or in the movies, this is truly an adult story with explicit scenes of violence and sex, so keep that in mind as you choose where to store it and who to share it with.If you like your folklore with a huge slice of realism packed with danger, adventure, drama and action, Angus Donald is your man. If you love historical fiction with a bite this is for you. If you like your myths and legends on the wild side, here you go.
bedda on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
This tale of Robin Hood is dark, bloody and completely unromantic. This is not a story about a hero for the oppressed. Robin rules the forest and the people with an iron fist and is quick to dispense bloody punishment for transgressions. It could be an interesting concept but I had trouble seeing it. Robin has the loyalty of the people and Alan, the narrator of the story, loves him as does Friar Tuck but I don¿t know why. The indefinable qualities that made him a leader of men, someone who draws people to him didn¿t really come through. Alan was sympathetic at first but the more I got to know him the less I liked him and the less I wanted to see him succeed. I wanted to be able to root for someone in this story and I couldn¿t. I wanted to want to know these people, and I didn¿t. There is a lot of action. Sword fights, recues, betrayals, battles and lots and lots of killing. I like that Tuck was conflicted about his loyalty to Robin and there were some things he would not take part in. It gave a sense that Robin¿s actions were not being totally excused. Donald does a good job of bringing the setting to life and by putting the meaning of some of the words right in the text (i.e. `he swung a heavy falchion, a thick bladed sword¿) manages to keep it authentic without sending you to the dictionary. It is a harsh, grim, sometimes even vulgar story so don¿t go looking for fairy tales here. There is enough fighting and blood to satisfy any action lover but it is the action that drives and carries the story and not the characters. And though I liked to book well enough I would have liked to see a little more balance between the two.
stuart10er on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
If one were to sit down in a pub and come up with a plan for how to write yet another novel about Robin Hood, you would do much worse than this work. I always say that it is permissible to "re-do" a classic work (of any art form) - but you have to bring something new to the story. There has to be some reason to retell the story. Donald's "Outlaw" does a very deft job of using characters and backgrounds that we are all familiar with and then weaving in a few new details or angles we hadn't seen before.That being said, the book is fairly aimed at the teenage boy crowd as there is just a bit too much unnecessarily sex for the story. If it adds to the narrative, sex is always ok - but where it does not really add anything to the story - it is unneeded. I guess this could be said of just about anything - that is why there are editors.
ladymacbeth1 on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
This book wasn't for me. I don't generally care for narratives told from a child's point of view. While the child in this story gradually ages throughout the book, he's a child through more than half of it.There's a lot of horrific action throughout, if you like that sort of thing. But I thought the character development was weak. Might make a good movie, but I just didn't care for the novel.
JGolomb on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
Angus Donald's historical fiction "Outlaw" is an exciting middle-age tale set in the forests of England. Knights in gleaming armor battle on horseback, while beautiful ladies await the return of their loves in a countryside of castles and manors. At the center of the story sits the legendary Robin Hood. But Donald's Hood is not the singing cartoon Hood of Disney, nor the 90's Robin of Kevin Costner. This Robin Hood has gone hardcore and there's more than a little bit of Godfather in him. Oh, he still lives in Sherwood and takes from the rich and gives to the poor, but he does so with a much bloodier dose of fear.This Robin Hood also has a solid understanding of the fundamentals of public relations and propaganda. It's known wide and far that if you cross Robin once you're part of his merry band, you can expect a very bloody and tortuous end. Though "General" Hood sits as the centerpiece of this tights & bows adventure, the real star is Alan Dale who narrates the story as an old man - a grandfather - pondering and reflecting on his life as an Outlaw.Alan's voice is written earnestly and with heart. You ache and relate to his misplaced feelings of love for Robin's betrothed Marie-Anne. You feel a real sense of intimacy with the character as his tale is spun first person throughout. Dale is the strongest character is the book, as Donald seems to have favored action sequences over more involved secondary character development. Religious themes are significant in Donald's world of 12-century England. Conflict persists between the regal and noble Christianity and the earthy and tribal religions of Robin's followers. Robin himself straddles both theological worlds and only commits himself to one or the other as circumstances see fit. This ecumenical tug of war is a cause of great internal strain for the young Dale as he tussles with his heart, morals, and growing admiration for Robin. Robin understands the politics of religion and also uses Catholic disillusionment to rally country-folk to his side. Likewise, he¿s happy to play the role of the good Catholic when needing the support and backing of the English aristocracy.Donald¿s Robin Hood his guilty of some stilted and corny dialogue, but the action sequences are bloody and fresh, and keep the story rolling at a rapid pace. Donald¿s world is very boldly drawn, and the violence is vivid and tense. I wouldn¿t recommend this story for the feint of heart. This is a strong entrant into the world of action historical fiction¿in a similar vein to Conn Iggulden¿s ¿Genghis¿ series, and stronger than Iggulden¿s ¿Emperor¿ novels. It¿s great escapist reading, and while I won¿t line up to read the sequel the day it comes out, I¿m definitely looking forward to reading more.[I received a free copy of "Outlaw" from LibraryThing's Early Reviewers program]
ulfhjorr on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
Outlaw was a book that I thought I would like very much. It turned out, however, to be something less than I hopedOn the positive side, this novel helps turn the Robin Hood myth on its ear. Here Robin is not the great hero and champion of the underdog, but rather a ruthless man, fighting, stealing, and scrambling his way to the top of English society. The novel is also very fast paced, allowing a reader to breeze through it in short order.The pacing is, however, also one of the negatives. It does not allow for any real character development outside of the "Oh yes, and character X could do action Y because he was also description Z" type. This, added to the same post-hoc rationalizations of plot twists, lends to the book the air of a campfire story told by someone who often finds himself painted into a corner with his own tale. The story's framing, that of an old man recalling tales of his youth, calls to mind Bernard Cornwell's Saxon Chronicles. This comparison is strengthened with the struggles between the Christian and Pagan worlds and those between the natives and the invaders (in this case the ruling French aristocracy). This comparison is unfortunate for Angus Donald, as Cornwell's writing is far superior to his own.Ultimately, the book was s fun, fast read, but I won't be keeping an eye out for more from this author.
viking2917 on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
You know Robin Hood. Splitting an arrow with a bow shot at 50 paces. Robs from the rich and gives to the poor. Battles Little John on a bridge or log with quarterstaves. In love with Maid Marian. Errol Flynn-handsome, a good and just thief. This is probably the Robin Hood you know, popularized by Ernie Pyle's The Merry Adventures of Robin Hood.This is not the Robin Hood of Outlaw. This is a darker, grimmer Robin. Outlaw is a rousing, fun tale. Narrated by Alan-a-Dale, himself a late addition to the Robin Hood legend, Outlaw follows Alan's admission to the band of merry men and his training deep in the heart of Sherwood, and his eventual rise to be one of Robin's key confidants. Along the way, we see a lot of blood. Lots of it. Sword-blood, Arrow-blood, Crushed-by-Siege-Engine-Blood, Human Sacrifice blood. There is lots of armor and swords, and not enough heroics with bow and arrow for my taste - nor is there much "steal from the rich and give to the poor". The story diverges from the traditional telling of Robin Hood in a number of other ways as well. This Robin Hood is far closer to Russell Crowe and Ridley Scott's Robin Hood than to Ernie Pyle or Errol Flynn.For a first novel, the writing is strong and fast-paced - the novel never flags. There are a few anachronisms in the novel, and the occasional awkward writing. A harrowing Druid/Wiccan ceremony is well done but feels out of place (Donald admits as much in the afterward that it's not historically justified). If you are interested in the history of the legend of Robin Hood, and speculations on whether or not there was an historical Robin Hood, J.C. Holt's Robin Hood is enjoyable and accessible. Or, if you just want an enjoyable Medieval romp, just read Outlaw and enjoy.[I received a free copy of Outlaw via LibraryThing's wonderful Early Reviewers program]
cranjetta on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
The first thing that struck me when I started reading this novel was the similarities to Bernard Cornwell's Warlord Chronicles. Both stories are told as a narrative of someone that was close to historical figure you are reading about. Both characters have outlived their masters and even the fact that the characters themselves are figures not associated with the typical myths. All of those factors made it difficult to enjoy the story right from the beginning. The author wove a decent tale and included all the normal Robin Hood stories (except the archery match) but I found it difficult to associate with any of the characters since the story was never focused on Robin and moved at too quick a pace. This could have been fleshed out more and possibly be written as a trilogy in order for the reader to get a better understanding of the characters and a more robust story. Even the rescue of Marie-Anne was rushed with a character appearing seemingly from no where to help Robin and our stories character rescue her. The rescue was quick and over without much fan fare or real story telling. While I enjoyed the book I did not give it more than two stars due to the likeness to Bernard Cornwell, the undeveloped characters, and the quick jaunt through the whole story.
Kunikov on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
I really hoped to like this book as I'm always interested in well written historical fiction. To an extent I would compare this book to "Gates of Fire" by Pressfield and Bernard Cornwell's 'Arthurian' trilogy. What all three have in common are famous stories being told by an 'outsider' viewing the main actors and actions/sequences/events/battles. Unfortunately, that's where the comparison ends. Both Pressfield and Cornwell do an excellent job of drawing the reader into their tales and often I feel a connection to at least some of the characters involved. In the case of 'Outlaw', the beginning was slow and dragged until about the middle of the book. I did not truly care for the main character, who seemed two-dimensional and cliche in terms of his actions/thoughts. The author at times spends entirely too much time on random descriptions and dialog is often limited, which further took away from my interest in the story he was attempting to tell, although I will say that in the end this is a book I would consider 'fast-paced'. Unfortunately, I can't say I'll remember it far into the future. As for the story itself, it does pick up mid-book but the ending isn't very climactic and to a degree predictable. It's also unrealistic that the main character knows practically every important character throughout the book, from being Robin Hood's sworn man, to being taught by a future crusader, saved by a future 'King's man', etc. The author definitely has promise and knows how to tell a story well enough, perhaps his future attempts will prove better than this one.
jamespurcell on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
An oft told tale, told once again with enough spin to make it interesting, Robin is not the kind, pretty gentleman to be played by Errol Flynn but Basil Rathbone would still make and excellent sheriff should this tale be made into a film. These were rough times and Donald's heroes and villain fill their roles aptly. I will look forward to the next episode.
laurion on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
Outlaw seems like a great idea for a book. A new take on the story of a man fighting against those who bleed the common man for personal gain and to pay for unpopular foreign wars. In this current economic and political climate you'd think that would resonate.Sadly, the book fails to present a compelling narrative. It isn't that the story is told from the perspective of Alan Dale, proto-bard and proto-outlaw. This is an acceptable choice for framing a third person perspective in a second person structure, as it is actually written as a memoir from an old Alan. No, what fails is the sense of continuity and effective story arc. The book feels like a series of scenes strung together with the loosest threads, and part of me wonders what happened here. Many classic Robin Hoods are in fact just a series of scenes (Notably the Pyle version) set down as individual stories, with no compelling need to connect them to each other. And that would fit fine in the context of a set of memoirs from the bardic member of the band. Instead, by trying to weave these disparate scenes together into a single story, what ends up happening is that the reader is even more painfully aware of the radically different character of each of the scenes. Combined with the darker, perhaps even morose attitudes towards warfare and pagan religion that are imbued in this Robin Hood, it ends up leaving me wondering if this is really a story of Robin Hood, or just a story that borrows the name and setting of Robin Hood. The book goes from scenes of Robin Hood in a village, almost exacting tribute, to scenes of outlaws training in a allies base, to scenes of pagan rituals to the final scene of organized military warfare and politics. I have little issue with variations on the legend, but very little of this book echoes the real sense of an underdog taking down the top dog a peg or three to balance the scales. Instead it feels more like a story of a radical splinter rebel militia taking advantage of the class warfare to serve its own purposes. Although the book tries to pick up on the historical political themes often sprinkled throughout the Robin Hood stories (Wars in France, Crusades, Norman vs Anglo-Saxon, NOrth vs South), they feel more like a justification for the staging of battle scenes than a real cause or motivation to the peoples involved.All in all, it is probably best that the book is titled 'Outlaw' rather than anything including the name Robin Hood, because it misses much of what makes Robin Hood, well, Robin Hood, instead of any other populist outlaw.
Kegsoccer on LibraryThing 4 hours ago
An interesting take on the familiar legend of Robin Hood, and that was perhaps why I liked it. This isn't the Disney version, and while the latest Russell Crowe movie put a spin on the story, it was fun to read Angus Donald's take on it. I'm thinking about picking up the next in this series, just to see how it all turns out.
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