In Lady of the Forest, Jennifer Roberson has fashioned a prequel to the legend of Robin Hood. The story opens with the return of the Earl of Huntington's son, Robert, from the Crusades. Lady Marian, whose father died on the Crusades, seeks out Robert to ask him if he can tell her any details of her father's last days and how he died. He relates to Marian a message that her father wished her to wed William DeLacy, the Sheriff of Nottingham and an old friend of the family. Meanwhile DeLacy, knowing his friend intended him for Marian, has been patiently waiting for her year of mourning to end. However, the beautiful Marian has caught the eye of several men, who become caught up in competition for her favor. Their scheming is not only romantic but political. King Richard is held captive in Germany while his younger brother Prince John is contriving to steal the throne. The nobles must decide where their loyalties lie. Robert is King Richard's man; he becomes determined to do all he can to raise the ransom needed to free the King. But Prince John is asking the Sheriff to raise taxes for his own purse. Meanwhile the poor are becoming more discontented. Matters are made worse by the fact that most of the nobles are French-speaking Normans whose families came over with William the Conqueror to subdue the Saxons, many of whom are now impoverished. Many Saxon outlaws, some the victims of unfair Norman law, have taken up residence in Sherwood Forest. Robert comes up with a plan that will get him money for King Richard's ransom, but he'll need the help of the outlaws.
Roberson has written a story that tells how Robin Hood and his merry band of outlaws may have come together. She focuses much more on Maid Marian than most historical sources would justify, but the best part of her tale is of the love between Marian and Robert/Robin. Another interesting feature is that Roberson portrays Robin as a man suffering from his memories of the brutality of war, a man who is unsure of whether he is even capable of loving anymore. The story itself is fascinating, although Roberson's tendency to write in overblown prose may deter some readers. Her recent sequel Lady of Sherwood, continues the tale of Robin, Marian, and the merry men. For those interested in a less romantic but excellent Robin Hood novel, Robin McKinley's Outlaws of Sherwood is a good choice.
Reviewed by mh, 01/00. Other reviews by mh.