Okay. This book broke me. It tore my heart out then proceeded very slowly to put it back. Very very slowly.
Nottingham is the second lesbian Robin Hood retelling I’ve read in less than six months. While Niamh Murphy’s Outlaw had a definite YA feel, Anna Burke’s Nottingham is all grownup.
An endless feud between the Sheriff of Nottingham and Robyn’s family sends her hiding in the Sherwood Forest, when all she was trying to do was care for her family. The woods are not safe for anyone, let alone a young woman, so she pretends to be a boy. When she stumbles onto John, an outlaw with his own secrets, he decides to stay with her instead of bringing her to the vicious Siward, who fancies himself the King of Sherwood. A hunting accident then leads the Sheriff’s daughter Marian to them.
And that’s all I’m going to write about the story, because it’s a retelling, and you already know the story, really. What’s important here is not so much what happens as how the author tells it. And she tells it brilliantly.
I don’t know what the best part is. The writing is excellent. I heard the sounds, I smelled the scents (not all were good), I felt the angst. Man, did I feel the angst… There are amazing descriptions of the woods, the camps, the food, that last one making me hungry every time even though I don’t like game – but I’d eat roasted goose any day. And some scenes I could so easily visualize I’m hoping someone turns this book into a movie. It’s not so much how detailed they are (long descriptions bore me and yes, I’m looking at you Honoré de Balzac) as Anna Burke choosing the exact right words.
The characters are wonderful, they’re layered and complex and consistent. I love that there’s more than meets the eye to almost every single one, including the villains, most notably Marian’s father. I love the way Robyn and Marian – but also Willa and Midge – grow into themselves. I love Marian’s strength, Robyn’s moral sense, John’s kindness, Tuck as the most irreverent Reverend Mother. I love that everyone is queer, in one way or another.
It’s a story of love and death, greed and pride, of power in the wrong hands and doing the wrong thing for the right reason. It’s wonderful and fantastic, intense and heartbreaking. If I could make up my mind on how to name my more-than-5* category, Nottingham would fit right in. But since I haven’t yet, five stars will have to do.