Parke Godwin is one of our finest writers of historical fiction, and "Sherwood" is one of the two books which firmly cements that reputation (the other being the masterful "Firelord"). This retelling of the Robin Hood legend is a smashing success on virtually every level.
Forget Errol Flynn, green tights, and "Good" King Richard. Godwin, with his characteristically thorough knowledge of historical setting, places his story at the advent of the Norman Conquest, almost a hundred years earlier. The wealth of historical detail provides both form and distinctive flavor to the tale; from the contents of a wayfarer's wallet to Saxon battle tactics, you are there! This works to great effect, and raises both the situational and emotional stakes of the book tremendously; indeed, William the Conqueror and Queen Matilda are characters of considerable importance, and by the end the reader will know them as well as any of the heroes. Godwin's Robin is no laughing adventurer; he is a pragmatic man who believes in simple justice, who is driven to become a hero by his need to protect his people and his refusal to accept laws and edicts "that ent right". Marian, far from a fluttering noblewoman, is strong, competent, loyal, and brave. The words 'loyal' and 'brave' also apply to Robin's nemesis Ralf Fitz-Gerald, the Sheriff of Nottingham, and this is one of the book's most fascinating (and satisfying!) aspects. We watch Ralf's story unfold right along with Robin's, and I found myself developing a real sympathy with this good man who does bad things. Not wishing to spoil the story, I will say no more about plot or characters, except to mention that Godwin's slightly unorthodox takes on other familiar names - Little John, Will Scarlet, Much, Friar Tuck, Alan-a-Dale - are no less riveting than his principals.
This is a perfect blend of historical accuracy and high adventure. Godwin's characters are real people, caught up in extraordinary circumstances and set on paths they never dreamed of. Along the way, there's courage, betrayal, blood, pain, romance, and glory. Read this book, and savor it. The Robin Hood legend might have really started this way; and if it didn't, it should have!