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Goat Heads and Sand Burrs, P. Kirby's Reading Blog

The good, bad, and fugly books I've read.
Lady of the Forest - Jennifer Roberson

Yeah, I totally glommed onto this book even though Maid Marian is at risk for setting off a three-alarm Mary Sue alert. As in, men are ready to go to war for her, Helen of Troy-style, within minutes of meeting her. (Amusingly, there's a Helen of Troy reference in the story.)

The scene is medieval England where things are looking grim. Which says a lot, because it's medieval England, before flush toilets, electricity, the Internet and modern hygiene. The kind of place where even a scraped knee might turn septic and the only cure is having your leg chopped off.

Making matters worse, is the absence of King Richard, who, having run off on the fanatical adventure known as the Crusade, has now gotten himself imprisoned in Germany. England, impoverished by his dream of freeing the world of non-Christians, can't afford his ransom.

Back home, in England, his scheming brother John has designs on the throne and is now bankrupting the country for his own nefarious purposes. Enter in the Sheriff of Nottingham and his henchman, Sir Guy of Gisbourne, who are happy to help John onto the throne.

Robert of Locksley, having won his knighthood on Crusade, but sort of lost his marbles in the process (PTSD), returns to England, and despite his mental status, is the most eligible bachelor in the region. He isn't particularly interested in any woman at the moment, having essentially lost a chunk of his humanity to the war. But he needs to have a chat with Lady Marian of Ravenskeep and make sure she received the message her dead father charged him to deliver.

Marian, at the start of the book, is doing her best to keep her estate running, while remaining a proper, respectable woman. Seeing Robert awakens a childhood crush, but she's too busy just trying to keep her holdings together to go into insta-lust with the returning hero.

Robert, similarly, is too fucked up and distracted by conflicts with his controlling father, to start immediately obsessing on a dead comrade's daughter.

So...nice slowish buildup in the romance. No, "He longed to suck her pink nipples" blah-blah-blah, lust-cakes bullshit.

On the other hand, The Sheriff and Sir Guy are blindingly besotted with Marian and their obsession is a driving aspect of the plot. I mean, they're kind of nuts, especially the Sheriff. I kept thinking, "Dude, you're old enough to know that after a couple of babies, provided she survives childbirth at all, she's not going to look anything like the hottie she is now. Get ovah it."

Anyway, things come to a head when Robert, already sympathetic to the plight of the peasants, gets fed up with the other nobles' bullshit, turns his back on his father and title, and goes outlaw, becoming Robin. Some of his rebellion is fueled by his desire to be with Marian, who isn't his father's idea of a good match.

Even though Marian is absurdly popular, driving otherwise intelligent men like the Sheriff of Nottingham to act like a hormonal teenagers, she is given a full character arc. She's strong, but without being an anachronism for the time. Even though the wounded warrior archetype (especially in Romance) can sometimes be annoying (and over-the-top), this PTSD-driven version of Robin Hood strikes a chord with my girly side.

I think a big part of Robin's appeal is that A) he's a tall, lanky fellow and therefore, my type, and B) as with Jamie/Claire in Outlander, the narrative shows Marian and Robin falling in love with the little things about the person: they way they move, the sound of their laugh, the shape of their mouth, etc. I.e., unlike a lot of Romance, the text doesn't go on and on about how hot/sexy the person is. Instead it shows me the attraction.

I remember really enjoying this the first time I read it, like a decade ago. Now I remember why.