Sherwood is a collection of eight short stories all based around the legends of Robin Hood. Edited by long-time Hood aficionado Jane Yolen, most of the stories centre on original or minor characters that are in some way related to Robin and his Merry Men. Judging by the “About the Authors” segment at the back of the book, all the contributors have had previous writing experience in both the fantasy and the medievalist period, with works such as Nancy Springer’s I Am Mordred, Yolen’s The Young Merlin Trilogy and Mary Frances Zambreno’s A Plague of Sorcerers to their name. As such, each one certainly seems qualified to add to the ever-growing mass of Robin Hood-related stories, and the result is an attractive, interesting, varied collection of tales.
Jane Yolen herself explores Robin’s mysterious birth in “Our Lady of the Greenwood” (a mystical account that wouldn’t have been out of place in the 1980s “Robin of Sherwood”) whilst Maxine Trottier provides a lovely account of Marian and Robin’s first meeting, interestingly portraying Marian as the forest-loving runaway, as well as several bittersweet passages that are written with the future knowledge of this couple’s legacy. In a similar vein, Anna Kirwan explodes Robin and Marian in their adolescence, just on the verge of courtship in “Under the Bending Yew,” adding some extra color by using Old English dialogue.
Nancy Springer‘s “Know Your True Enemy” involves a young boy named Rafe in the service of Robin who is forced to care for the Sheriff’s son when he gets captured by outlaws in Sherwood Forest, though the quality slips a little in “The Children’s War” by Timons Esaias, a story that also involves a boy living amongst the outlaws, who invents a new weapon with a pie-cart and crossbows and then… leaves with his family. It feels like the first part of a much larger story.
But things pick up again in “Straight and True” by Robert Harris, an amusing anecdote told from Friar Tuck’s point of view, in which Robin manages to outwit a rival band of thieves in the forest, as well as Mary Frances Zambreno‘s “At Fountain Abbey,” in which Robin’s grandson escapes from his dastardly uncle, discovers his heritage in a woodland abbey, and learns that the blood of his grandfather certainly runs through his veins. This and Trottier’s “Marian” are probably the best stories here.
Finally, Adam Stemple does something completely different in “Robin Hood v. 1.5.3” in which a contemporary Sheriff and Guy of Gisborne (Guy Gibson) try to understand and then defeat a rampant computer virus that’s meddling with the world’s banking system, distributing the contents of the wealthiest people’s bank accounts to charities and welfare organizations. It’s a humorous look at how a modern-day Robin Hood might act, and how the authorities might attempt to stop him.
Between each story are quotes from the old Robin Hood ballads that shed light on the themes and inspiration of each tale, as well as attractive pictures by Dennis Nolan which are mainly portraits of the main characters. All in all, this is a pleasant, diverting anthology that will go down well with fans of Robin Hood folklore.