Born into nobility, Robin of Locksley has grown up wanting for almost nothing. Food, clothing, and education are all provided for by a distant father who is impossible to please. Even as Robin proved his mettle at the skills required of a knight and showed compassion for others, his father had little patience for the boisterous youth. Robin found a measure of friendship with a neighbor boy named Guy, but as he and his peer grow up, it is clear that Robin surpasses Guy in every regard.
Tension grows between Robin and Guy, coming to a head when they make an illicit trip to Sherwood forest and meet actual outlaws. Scared for their lives, they are stunned to discover the leader of this band of ruffians leads with a fair hand. Saved by the grace of a man who lives outside the law, Robin is impressed and longs to have such a simple life for himself. Guy, on the other hand, burns with a sense of injustice, only promising to keep their jaunt a secret because Robin threatens to spill a secret of Guy’s.
The experience changes both youths in formidable ways. Robin starts to rebel against the injustices thrust upon the peasant class all to serve the nobility. Guy begins to grow cold and calculating, seeking and taking revenge against any and all who have slighted him. It doesn’t take long for Guy to set his sights on Robin of Locksley and the estate itself.
While Robin has to contend with Guy, he also has to learn to cope with his overbearing father. Recently, the man has taken it upon himself to find Robin’s future wife. As the sole heir to the Locksley estate, Robin soon discovers his natural skill at the bow and arrow, the sword, and fighting will be wasted—his father wants him to learn how to run an estate and secure future generations of Locksleys. Frustrated at the unwanted plans his father foists upon him, Robin finds comfort in two companions: Lucy, a peasant from Locksley’s mill, and Will, a peasant who earns a place working in the stables of Locksley manor.
Guy and his evil schemes coupled with Robin’s father’s callous designs leave Robin feeling less and less like he has a place among the landed gentry. A night of passion with Lucy gives him an alternative future: quit the nobility and live as a peasant as the husband of the woman bearing his child. Yet nothing is as simple as it seems. Politics and intrigue affect even the lowest of the peasants, and Robin has brought a fair amount of drama down upon the heads of his future wife’s family. On top of that, Guy’s machinations to greatness grow ever more dangerous—to the point of making an attempt at treason.
Robin will somehow have to figure out how to take Guy down a notch and how to keep his new family from falling apart. As long as Will is at his side, he has hope…
The Heir of Locksley was a pretty satisfying read. I choose this story as part of the September Reading Challenge for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week. The lush green tree with diffused light evokes a mysterious forest, which is exactly what how Sherwood Forest is portrayed in this and many other tales of Robin Hood. While I think Dixon did a great job setting the scene with historical description, the vivid colors of the cover were not very prevalent in the prose of the book. Nevertheless, I found myself drawn to this retelling of Robin Hood both for its action and it subtle hints at m/m romance.
I knew going into it that this was the first of (at least? Only?) two books, so I was not that surprised to see the book broken into two parts. The first third follows Robin and Guy when they are but tweenagers; the other two thirds follows Robin and Lucy’s relationship, how Will does and does not fit into Robin’s life, and the despicable actions Guy takes in the name of revenge. It made for a good split.
I especially liked how carefully Dixon establishes Robin and Guy in the first part of the book. Not remembering the blurb very well, I was expecting Robin and Guy to be the love interests. My heart ached to read how Guy spiraled ever further away from rational action. I was expecting a fabulous turn around at some point, but after several chapters and increasingly seeing Guy as a character failing to take responsibility for his actions and blame others and generally behave worse and worse, I was wondering how he might redeem himself. Especially since we see Robin highlighted as a virtuous character—which is not to say Robin is portrayed as a goody-goody, he gets into trouble quite often…but he acts very altruistically.
During the first part of the story, Dixon also does a bang-up job describing what life was like back in the mid 1100s without it reading like a history lessons. The descriptions of the various roles people fulfilled and the social systems in place at the time helped me organize this part of history in a logical way, but it was also introduced as part of the natural flow of the story. Just a handful of these little expositions went a long way towards giving me a clear metal picture of the era. The only incongruity I could discern were some modern attitudes about class and equality, but I wanted to read Robin (and to a lesser extent Will) as being sympathetic to the plight of the poor and that is the defining characteristic of the Robin Hood trope. Plus, I really enjoyed that Dixon tempered Robin’s altruistic-to-a-fault with a big, soft heart. That is, he falls for a sob story or two and pays dearly for giving the sobber the benefit of the doubt.
The only real awkwardness for me was how Robin comes to realize he just might like Will as perhaps more than a friend. There are clear undertones of Robin/Will romance, but they are buried deep. On the one hand, I appreciate how subtly but definitely the attraction (which is too strong a word on Robin’s part) grows. On the other, it did sort of feel a bit awkward during the scene where Robin first feels a funny tingle—it’s a tender scene and I enjoy it, but it just felt a bit “now is the time to open to door to possible Robin/Will.” That said, I will never be a teenaged boy confused about funny feelings for his best friend. The other issue I have with the development of this ship is how little it actually appears. What scraps we get are carefully placed and generally fit the flow of the story, but it always seems to amount to a paragraph every couple chapters. It sort of feels like Dixon went back over while editing and peppered the pages with foreshadowing emotions. There isn’t enough of just Will/Robin to see any feelings develop beyond “Why do I feel so strongly for Will?” on Robin’s part and “Men simply do not lie with other men and Robin’s got Lucy anyway” on Will’s part.
On the whole, I enjoyed this story a lot. The world building and character portrayals are very strong. The two chunks of the book allow the reader to get a strong sense of Robin’s and Guy’s character and the appearance of a balance of power and a moral high ground is constantly shifting like sand around them. While this story certainly has legs enough to stand on its own, it also feels like a prequel to the traditional Robin Hood story (where he comes back from the Crusades…but maybe that’s just my personal feeling as a holdover from the Kevin Costner movie?). It has certainly whetted my appetite for the sequel.
This review is part of our Reading Challenge Month for Judge a Book By Its Cover Week! Leave a relevant comment below and you will be entered to win a prize pack from Interlude Press that includes a signed, print copy of Not Your Villian by C.B. Lee, plus e-book copies of some of their award-winning books. Commenters will also be entered to win our amazing grand prize sponsored by Dreamspinner Press (a loaded Kindle fire filled with DSP books!). You can get more information on our Challenge Month here, and more details on Judge a Book By Its Cover Week here, including a list of all the books in this week’s prize.