REVIEW: Heart of Sherwood, by Edale Lane

Title: Heart of Sherwood

Author: Edale Lane

Genre: Historical Fantasy

LGBTQ+ Category: FF / Lesbian

Publisher: Past and Prologue Press

Pages: 372

Reviewer: Jaye

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About The Book

What if there had been a real Robin Hood, but instead of being a “he” the heroic outlaw was a “she”? Relive the classic tale told from a new prospective in Heart of Sherwood!

When Robyn’s father and brother are killed in the Third Crusade, she is banished from her manor home and branded a traitor by the Sheriff of Nottingham. Disguised as a boy, she joins Little John and the rest of the gang in Sherwood Forest—and soon finds herself their leader.

Queen Eleanor suspects Prince John is up to no good, and colluding with Sir Guy and the Sheriff of Nottingham. To learn more, she engages Maid Marian as a spy—and unwittingly reunites Marian with her old childhood friend, Robyn. Together, the women help the queen acquire the funds needed to free King Richard and help Nottinghamshire—and perhaps fall in love along the way.

The Review

Heart of Sherwood is a lesbian retelling of the old story of Robin Hood. Because it’s a retelling of the Robin Hood story, there aren’t a whole lot of new features to add. Changing Robin into Robyn is a fresh take, and I was definitely excited to read it. 

The author did a great job of addressing the issue of Robin’s martial skills. In this version, Robin didn’t return from the Crusades to find his family gone and lands seized. That would have been a neat trick, but unfeasible given the circumstances. So the author gave a plausible explanation that both demonstrated Robin’s skill and let Robyn’s brilliance shine through. 

Marian is another figure, one with a completely different skillset. That skillset is vital to Robyn’s mission, the survival of the Sherwood community, and ultimately the return of King Richard to England. Giving too many details would be a spoiler, but I have to say that I truly enjoyed this take on Maid Marian. 

The side characters are mostly characters people will know well from the Robin Hood stories, history, or even reading Ivanhoe. The addition of Eleanor of Aquitaine was both a stroke of brilliance and one of the biggest issues I had with the book. 

Eleanor of Aquitaine would, of course, have been involved with Richard’s release from captivity. She was known in her own time, and throughout history, as a figure who was deeply involved with the politics of her day. Those politics were often familial and usually bloody, and history (which was written by men for most of the span from then until now) did not look kindly on a woman who was so actively involved in shaping her own destiny as well as that of multiple kingdoms. 

I’ve always loved her, if only because I knew exactly why she was so hated. And I was giddy when I saw her here, and portrayed sympathetically too. 

I’m not taking issue with putting Eleanor in the book, or acknowledging her role in history. Not at all. 

The issue arises when we consider what happens when we put a figure like Eleanor – a major figure in English and European political history, the kind of person who moved mountains, the kind of person who gets vilified almost a thousand years after her death for not minding her place as a woman – into what is essentially a localized folk tale. 

The story of Robin Hood becomes not a story oppressed people tell themselves to make themselves believe someone is looking out for them– for average people, for peasants, for the falsely accused – but a story of dynastic politics and grand noblemen squabbling between themselves over who is entitled to oppress those same people. The story becomes co-opted, and it also becomes Game of Thrones

I hated Game of Thrones. 

I didn’t hate Heart of Sherwood, but I did find myself skimming over the Grand Dynastic Politics parts. That frustrated me, because I liked Marian and I have a great big historical crush on Eleanor of Aquitaine. I didn’t want to skim over any of the book, but I just couldn’t make myself care about that aspect. I respected Robyn a little bit less when she let her mission – and the community – get coopted into helping get the money for Richard’s ransom instead of sticking to redistributing wealth at home. 

Robin Hood’s original mission is radical, and for the time it is downright revolutionary. Robin Hood as it turns out in Heart of Sherwoodis all about the status quo. That didn’t quite sit well with me either. 

The romance is well developed, and while I had some concerns about the solution developed for them at the end I suspect I was overthinking it. (I might have done a little too much research into that particular subject in my misspent youth.) 

I think this book will make a lot of people very happy. Folks who like an extra helping of political drama, people who enjoy medieval historical fiction, and people who enjoy romance will all get what they’re looking for here.  

The Reviewer

I’m Jaye. I like books with strong and interesting characters. And murder. I grew up on a steady diet of fantasy and science fiction, coming to romance later in life, and I can’t wait to read more of everything.

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