Pen and Sword Books, August 2013
1193. A Crusader returns from the Holy Land to his home in Nottinghamshire, where he is known as a murderer. His name is Robin of Locksley. Following a youth spent with lowborn friends Robin is determined to settle into the role his father wanted for him: a lord dispensing justice to the county. But a false rumour of his death in the East has stolen Robin’s lands from him, and the country he left only four years before is now crippled by taxation and struggling to maintain the King’s law. It seems Robin must choose between his desire to regain his lost inheritance and his intention to help the commons.
In this lucidly imagined and carefully researched recreation of the era of King Richard ‘the Lionheart’, England is torn between the land-owning Norman lords and their English subjects, and it soon becomes clear that Robin can accomplish more outside the law than within it…
In this her first novel, Lauren Johnson’s knowledge as a historian brings a vividness to the project, presenting us with an authentic depiction of the sights, sounds, conflicts and furies that defined this era. A story of redemption, loss, romance and adventure, this novel will excite and enthral.
Writing and telling stories has been Lauren’s passion since she was a child. Since graduating in History from Oxford University she has pursued her interest in storytelling as Research Manager for a historical interpretation company based at heritage sites including Hampton Court Palace, Dover Castle and the Tower of London. There, she had plenty of practice at immersing visitors in a living historical world – a skill she has now brought to the world of historical fiction.
The Arrow of Sherwood was well-told re-imagining of the Robin Hood stories, but was free of the political correctness or silliness that blights a lot of modern dramatic adaptations. All the well-known characters were present, and some of the situations and scenarios are reminiscent of some movies (Will Scarlette as Robin’s illegitimate half-brother Marian acting on her own to help the poor etc), but this was a novel that very much has stands out on its own.
Some of the characterization was a break from the ordinary, and no so black and white as it is in some versions, and even Robin’s own role of helping the poor comes across as more plausible than it might be in other tellings. Robin works largely within the law, for the most part (albeit often through deception), and within the system of the age, he is a rebel with a cause, but not one who turns his back on birth and social position to pursue some utopian egalitarian vision of society, or runs away from the world at the first opportunity.
Lauren Johnson is a professional historian, immersed in the period – although the emphasis is on the story, the details about the legal and administrative system of the time period add an interesting element to the story, also giving it a more credible edge. I believe the author expressed a wish to write a more accurate version of the Robin Hood stories, and she has certainly delivered. Whilst the story is not full of fast paced action (which sometimes comes at the cost of good storytelling), this novel is a satisfying, original and largely character driven retelling which is faithful to the spirit of the original tales while firmly grounded in the time period.
On a personal level, I was also pleased to find a novel that was not crammed with sex scenes and gratuitous violence to ‘spice’ things up. Recommended for historical fiction lovers and fans of the Robin Hood tales.