Genre: fantasy: fairy tale
Pairings: f/f, trans/f
Queer Representation: cis lesbian, cis bisexual, trans man
After her brother is killed for poaching in the king’s forest, Robyn takes up the role as family provider. She too is caught, and in her haste to escape must kill a man. Not wanting to bring down her whole family, she runs away to Sherwood Forest, where she meets Little John and slowly (sometimes painfully slowly) builds up a band of ‘merry men’ outlaws who, eventually, decided to take out the Sheriff of Nottingham, steal from the rich, give to the poor, etc. You know how this goes.
It’s Robin Hood, but literally every named character is queer. Most are lesbians, except for Little John, who is a trans man. The rep is great, and the ratio of men to women in this retelling is much better than most I’ve read. A+ for that, especially for how Little John was handled. I rarely see such well executed trans men in lesbian fiction.
“God’s nails,” she said, taking a step back. “You’re a woman, too.”
“No,” John said. “I’m not. Call me John. That’s who I am. Forget it, as others have before you, and I’ll leave you to fend for yourself.”
“But you…” she trailed off.
“Look like an ox?”
Robyn hadn’t been thinking of those words exactly, but the description fit. “As strong as one anyway,” she ventured.
“That’s what my late husband called me. Joan the Ox.”
“Don’t be. I got the last word.”
Robyn wondered exactly what had happened to Joan’s husband. John, she corrected herself. He’d said that was who he was, and it was no business of hers to decide otherwise.
Unfortunately, there isn’t much else of note in the book. NOTTINGHAM leans too heavily on Robin Hood lore, so much so that it cannot stand on its own. It takes the stock characters and gives them backstory, yes, and gender swaps, and fun adventures, but everything still feels two-dimensional. There are too many characters and side quests, which leaves the narrative long-winded and wandering. The romance between Robyn and Marian is all but lost in the story, and Robyn herself is a frustrating lead who does not drive the plot past the first few chapters. Instead, her merry (wo)men push and pull her along, or the narrative itself does, giving every chapter a slow as molasses feel.
The side characters, in many ways, are more three-dimensional than either Marian or Robyn, even though they have far fewer lines and scenes. John is amazing, and by far the breakout character of the book. Will(a) is perfect and saucy and brazen and a damn delight. Even Gwyneth is engaging, once the narrative gets going enough to let her character breathe.
Robin Hood buffs may find this book just what the sheriff ordered, but those looking for a tight, moving plot and a romance line that carries throughout will be disappointed. From reading the front and backmatter, NOTTINGHAM appears to be Burke’s first every book written (not published) and thus, the wandering and thickness make sense. Still, noting the skill the author now possesses (dear god, I will never recover from THORN), it would have been worth killing a few darlings to bring this book up to a similar quality.
Sneak into Sherwood Forest and see if Little John will let you join Robyn by buying the book here.