Thirteen year old Rosemary returns home from gathering herbs to find her home burnt to the ground and her mother dead. Not willing to try her luck in a town or on an estate, she decides to disguise herself as a boy and travel to Sherwood Forest in order to find her father: Robin Hood. Rosemary has never met or even seen her father, who is already a famous hero in ballads across England. Unsure why he left her mother or even if he wants a daughter, Rosemary cuts her hair, dons boy’s clothes and starts calling herself Rowan.
She makes several new friends on the journey to her father: a dog/wolf hybrid that can catch arrows in the air, a simple-minded giant with a gift for music, and a runaway princess who willingly chooses life in the wilderness over an arranged marriage. When she finally runs into Robin Hood, she decides to keep her paternity a secret as she assesses the man behind the legend and how he operates.
Unfortunately she also manages to cross paths with the cruel bounty hunter Guy of Gisborn, a man who wears a horse-skin hood and wants to see all outlaws dead — especially those that know Robin Hood. Along with struggling with her self-identity (which includes communicating with the mysterious aelfe and coming to terms with the mystical powers inherited from her mother) Rowan musters her own little band of outlaws in order to save her father when he is arrested by the Sheriff of Nottingham.
Many books that are written for children can be enjoyed and appreciated by an older audience — for example, Nancy Springer’s previous book I Am Mordred — but Rowan Hood is not one of them. It’s a very slender book that moves at a brisk pace, but it has no real emotional weight to it. Most of Rowan’s characterization concerns the death of her mother and her concerns about her father, but since Celandine dies off-screen and before the story even starts (the book begins with Rowan sensing her death) we never really get a sense of Rowan’s loss. Likewise, Robin himself is a minor character and the idea behind Rowan’s conception is… a little strange.
The idea of Robin Hood having a child is certainly not a bad one (I recall a Disney made-for-television movie called Princess of Thieves that had the same premise), but the story is more about Rowan and her own collection of friends rather than what it means to be the daughter of such a great hero. The Merry Men all have cameo appearances, but for the most part this story centers on Rowan’s first steps toward adulthood and her newfound friends. (I can’t help but feel it would have made a better story to have Rowan integrate herself among the famous outlaws whilst disguised as a boy rather than work on the formation of a “young outlaws” gang.) There is one obvious omission amongst the characters: Marian, of whom there is no mention at all. It’s unclear whether she’ll turn up in later books, or is simply not a part of this particular continuity, but her absence is a bit of an oddity.
Likewise, Rowan Hood feels very much like the first installment of a series. Everything is introductory without any real payoff, and one character (the protagonist of the fourth book, Wild Boy) is introduced at the end of the story, after the climactic finish. The supporting characters are all lightly sketched, and even Rowan herself is just the standard “plucky girl” with lots of luck, self-determination, and catchphrase. Of course, that’s better than being a helpless damsel in distress, but she’s still rather generic.
Springer creates an evocative atmosphere in regards to the beauty and mystery of Sherwood Forest, and young readers will find plenty to enjoy in regards to plot and content, particularly if they’re fans of the Robin Hood legends. But all in all, this story feels like an appetizer to a main course, and perhaps will stand up better in light of the following installments: Lionclaw, Outlaw Princess of Sherwood, Wild Boy and Rowan Hood Returns.
Rowan Hood — (2001-2005) Ages 9-12. Publisher: Rosemary has nowhere to go when her beloved mother dies. She has never met her father — the outlaw Robin Hood — and she’s grown up among the woodland creatures her mother loved. So she decides to change her name to Rowan, disguise herself as a boy, and undertake a perilous journey through Sherwood Forest, in search of Robin Hood. But how will she find him? And will he offer her a home?