The Death of Robin Hood | Angus Donald | 2016 (4 August) | Sphere | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book
The Death of Robin Hood completes Angus Donald’s utterly superb and original reimagining of the legend of Robin Hood. And with a title like that many of us will approach this novel with tissues at the ready and not a little amount of gin. As with any great series, this book does stand alone well if you demand it to but, really, this is a book that should be read in sequence because how else could you appreciate the drama, tension and high emotion of a final novel with a title as charged as this one? This review assumes that you have knowledge of the earlier books but it won’t give much away.
King John has turned his back on the Magna Carta and full-scale Civil War is about to break out. But it’s not quite as simple as that. Great leaders such as Robin, Earl of Loxley fight against the King, knowing only too well his lack of worth, but when a French army lands in support of the rebels, bringing with it a French Prince hungry for the prize of England, Robin and others change sides. Robin’s knights, notably Sir Alan Dale, are none too pleased but these are men who would fight to the death for their lord Robin Hood and many do just that. But, as with all Civil Wars, these are uncertain times and loyalties within families are divided. Robin and Alan both have to deal with that. As if matters couldn’t be any more desperate, as the French and English rebels march towards the decisive battle, a new force for evil is brought into the fray – the cruel and vindictive French White Count. The fight for survival is about to become much more deadly.
Alan has suffered more than most over the years. At last it appears that happiness might lie just beyond the horizon, even if it comes in an unlikely form. There is so much to fight for.
I cannot overstate my love and affection for Angus Donald’s Outlaw series. I’ve followed it for years, each book such a highlight of my summer’s reading. And now, with the eighth novel, it comes to a close, and I can’t tell you how miserable that makes me. I’d have had it last forever. But it’s not to be and that is partly because we’re not in the world of legend and myth here. Donald’s Robin and Alan feel very real indeed, coping with one of the most tumultuous periods in English history, and, although there are frequent, intense moments of high drama, action and even romance, it’s well rooted in the times and that means anything can and will happen. As readers of a much loved and long-running series, we’re advised to brace.
I’d hate to declare any book in this series my favourite because I think I love them all equally with some truly standing out for different reasons (Holy Warrior which takes Robin and Alan on Crusade, the brilliant, harrowing reworking of myth in Grail Knight, and the siege of Richard the Lionheart’s impregnable fortress Château Gaillard in The Iron Castle – I picked these three at random, I could have easily selected the others). The Death of Robin Hood is every bit as fantastic as the others in the series and succeeds magnificently in the difficult task of drawing the series to a more than satisfactory close.
There are moments of great action, culminating in the Battle of Lincoln in 1216. This is edge of your seat stuff, made even more tense because now not all of our heroes fight on the same side. A shadow of foreboding hangs over events, not helped by the novel’s title, but this is not a straightforward story. There are several strands tangled together here, some of which tug at the heartstrings. This is a fantastic series for baddies (the Sheriff of Nottingham has a fight on his hands to win the crown of evil) and the White Count is a truly terrifying, menacing creation.
Robin of Loxley is a world away from the Robin Hood of Hollywood, more gangster than hero to the poor, but over the course of the novels Robin has changed enormously and in this final novel, set many years after the first, he is not the man he once was and we love him all of the more for it. But the hero of these novels is not Robin but Alan Dale and our journey with him has been full of ups and downs to put it mildly. As Alan’s tale of the past catches up with the present, it’s a time for us all to think back on this wonderful, wonderful series and thank Angus Donald for the glorious gift he’s given us.