Robin of Locksley had always been in love with Will Scathelock, but he had spent years denying his feelings and rebuffing his closest friend and confidant. Then, for a period of time as glorious as it was brief, Robin found the courage to face his feelings and let himself love Will. Their affair was short lived; King Richard gave Robin an ultimatum: If Robin did not marry Lady Marian, the king would see Robin’s entire band of outlaws, Will among them, murdered.
Nine years later, Robin is the Earl of Huntingdon. He still had many of his old outlaw friends either serving in Huntingdon Castle or living within the boundaries of his lands. Not one to stand on ceremony, Robin worked hard to forge good working relationships with the myriad residents of Huntingdon, training with the garrison, providing food when crops failed, and shielding the tenants from the new king’s ever increasing tax burden. And as a testament to his unyielding sense of duty, Robin has attempted to sire an heir to the estate no less than eight times.
However, this is hardly the life he wants for himself; he feels at odds with the nobility and knows the compassion he shows those beneath his own station rankles with the rich and powerful. He would much rather be living in Sherwood Forest with Will Scathelock by his side—as if such a fanciful thing were possible. If his own stalwart belief in doing the right thing were not enough to stop him, then the fact that Will disappeared without a trace after Robin revealed his nuptials to the Lady certainly was.
After Robin of Locksley brutally betrayed Will’s love by marrying Lady Marion, Will took leave of the area and supported himself as a mercenary for hire. The work bores him, however, and he is willing to risk a ride through the outskirts of Robin’s land to take a commission at a small landowner close to Nottingham. Before he arrives at his post, however, the inn where he is staying is attacked by mercenaries sent by Picard, the new Sheriff of Nottingham. Will quickly learns that not only is Picard willing to do King John’s dirty work by harassing the people in Robin’s domain, an old enemy is back in town: Roger of Doncaster. The man brutalized Robin while they were crusading for king and country and now has a score to settle with Robin. Suddenly, Will and Robin are thrust together again, all while Marian watches her husband drift ever further away from her. But with enemies closing in from multiple fronts, everyone in Huntingdon will have to put up a unified front and pray it doesn’t collapse before their attackers are defeated.
I found this final installment in the Outlaw’s Legacy series riveting. First, I both enjoyed and bemoaned the fact that this book is set nine years after the second one ends. This distance helped in a very practical sense—there was very little I needed to recall from the first two books (Heir of Locksley and Knight of Sherwood). Rather than bringing up old events, Dixon reintroduces old antagonists with familiar prerogatives. Roger of Doncaster is arguably the more notorious of the two as the one who physically attacked Robin. He blames Robin for the fact that Roger had long been stripped of his inheritance; he also despises Robin for Robin’s love of another man. One of Roger’s accomplices is a rather formidable opponent as well: an abbess who lost both her husband and brother by Robin’s hand; she also lost her sanity. That said, whatever we need to know about these two characters’ respective histories is adequately covered on page, making it easy to follow along. The downside to being set nine years in the future is that, from a story-continuity perspective, it seems weird to me that King John, Sheriff Picard, Roger of Doncaster, the abbess, and a steward are all in cahoots to go after Robin. Surely at least the King and the sheriff would have had ample time to seriously pursue ousting Robin before this. However, it seems the best these two have done is allow mercenaries to attack Robin’s lands with abandon (rather much like what was happening in the very first book). I suppose Roger’s return to England is the catalyst that brings all these different baddies together, but it seems odd that, for all that they each loathe Robin with the power of a million suns, none of them is able to mount a serious threat against him until they all work together.
One thing I found rather interesting is how differently I perceived Robin. In the first two books, he seemed to be waffling between Will and Marian. There was a brief period where he was intent on marrying another peasant girl named Lucy, as well. I ultimately came to conclude this version of Robin Hood pitches the titular character firmly in the bisexual camp. However, in Earl of Huntingdon, the nature of how and why Robin was forced to marry Marian comes to light (if you read/remember book two, you’ll know why, but this is rehashed in book three if you’ve forgotten). Even prior to this, Robin and Will meet face to face and all their old feelings of love, desire, and longing come thundering impotently forward. Together, these narratives colored Robin in this book as rather (if not exclusively?) gay. In point of fact, sexual orientations and all that are never really discussed on page. Instead, Robin’s love for Will slowly leaks out at various points in the story and to various people. Naturally, when Robin’s enemies find out, they do not hesitate to use this as ammunition against him (being a “sodomite” is punishable by death). Robin himself spends no small amount of time worrying that his orientation will cost him the loyalty of the men who have offered to help Robin protect Huntingdon from siege. I liked that Robin’s sexuality does not remain a secret, but given the time period, there cannot be any great discussions about labels or orientation or discrimination (plus, they spend a lot of the book planning for attacks or engaging in them). That said, there are a few exchanges between Robin and other principal characters where he gets to subtly press his point, when a possible suitor/lover for Marian declares his love for her to Robin and Robin replies that he knows how consuming and unforgiving love can be.
Even with all the delightful focus on Robin’s emotions and his eventual reconciliation with Will (that may or may not last…which was another painfully delightful possibility to entertain), there is no skimping on the kniving and the plotting. The narrative feels like a 70/30 split, the majority obviously focusing on Robin, but those scenes peppered throughout that feature what Roger or Picard are scheming always filled me with dread. Again, with so many different characters working together to not only unseat Robin from his Earldom, but destroy him entirely, every whiff of the antagonists’ treachery sent a thrill up my spine. Of course, Robin is able to decidedly thwart many of these attempted attacks. However, the final battle especially highlights that Robin is not a god among men—he suffers losses as well as blows to his pride. Even though I had every expectation that Robin would survive, the way Dixon spins out the antagonists’ nefarious plans, I was skeptical that all of Robin’s closest friends would come out on top. Dixon’s finely prose to describe the final battle for Huntingdon heightened this doubt for me. The action felt well paced and brought several of the principal characters on Robin’s side into play without feeling overwhelming. Even when the battle stretches on for multiple days (ergo multiple pages), I never felt tired of reading how Roger was attacking or how Robin and the others were defending.
There is only one small criticism I have for the book: if a character can make a bad decision, it seems like they invariably do make a bad decision. Because the story is told in third person omniscient, the reader is privy to a lot details the characters on page obviously would not be. For example, the reader knows pretty early on who amongst Robin’s inner circle is the spy, but Robin doesn’t find out until much later. This set up means we can watch character after character make bad decisions to trust this spy. Another example is how Robin sends Marian to an abbey for protection while their castle is under siege, but the reader has known from very early on the evil abbess now oversees this abbey and Robin has unwittingly sent Marian right into the hands of the enemy. In the context of the story, there is no way the characters to know they’re making monumental mistakes, but from the reader’s perspective, this device is used time and again. It does create a great sense of drama, but it was also noticeable to me (I actually made a note to myself about about Marian’s going to the abbey; it says “this is like a comedy of errors, but with bad decisions”).
One final note, the end where it concerns the individual characters felt a bit…impersonal to me. I was happy to learn how the various characters decided to move on after the battle at Huntingdon, but the descriptions came across as brief to the point of perfunctory. This seems exacerbated by the fact that even the remaining principal characters are handled in this fashion. However, the final scene of the book proper was a delightful head-turner concerning Sheriff Picard, of all people. And the epilogue was so tender: just one of the main supporting characters singing the ballad of Robin Hood in a tavern. The use of tense in this scene and the imagery described (along with the closing scene with Picard) together tugged at my heart in a delightfully bittersweet way.
Again, for any fans of the series, I think you’ll be wildly entertained by this final installment. And for readers who are unfamiliar with the series, I would urge any who are interested in historical fiction or Robin Hood to give the series a chance. It’s absolutely filled with endless drama, plotting, battles, and personal vendettas and makes for a wildly entertaining read.