Retellings of the Robin Hood legend are always interesting. This novel tells the tale from the point of view of the band’s minstrel, Alan o’ Dale. Here he is called Alan Dale. He is a thief, and in flight from the harsh Norman law of the period, he is forced to join the outlaw band. But Dale has a gift for and a love of music, hence the link with the Alan of legend. All the other familiar figures of the legend are there too: Little John, Will Scarlet and Friar Tuck. But they are demystified and captured upon the page as real people. This applies to Robin also, who is certainly not the Robin Hood of legend. He is capable of great ruthlessness and violence and rules Sherwood by running some kind of protection racket. Yet the Robin Hood who robs the rich to give to the poor is not entirely absent.
Angus Donald has avoided the trap of going to the other extreme and presenting us with an out-and-out villain who merely robs the rich for his own profit, though he does that too, of course. The Robin Hood of this novel is a complex and believable person, a mixture of both good and bad. The main elements of the legend are still there, but transmuted into a more realistic form. All in all a satisfying read. I was glad to see, too, that this book is the first in a series continuing the story of Alan and his relationship with the legendary outlaw of Sherwood.