Book Review

What a Scoundrel Wants by Carrie Lofty

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Title: What a Scoundrel Wants
Author: Carrie Lofty
Publication Info: Zebra Kensington December 2008
ISBN: 1420104756
Genre: Historical: European

Book CoverIn order to get this review going, I have to get one thing out of the way:

“Fuck me, he cleared it!”

Ok, then.

The buzz is a-building about Carrie Lofty’s What a Scoundrel Wants since the buzz-o-matic Ann Aguirre launched a viral contest to spread the word about Lofty’s debut with Kensington.  I read this book a few weeks ago, and I have to say, Lofty set herself for a hell of a task: she took a legend with which most people were familiar, and a setting and time period that hadn’t been visited within the romance genre in a very long while, and placed a romance among characters who are so familiar and enduringly popular that readers who pick up this book may already have a visual for the hero in mind, whether it’s Christian Slater from Prince of Thieves, source of the quote above, or Harry Lloyd from the BBC version of Robin Hood. Or maybe you hear the name “Robin Hood” and think of and think of foxes, bears, and lions. No matter how Lofty describes Will Scarlet, her description may be overridden by the reader’s preference. Plus, how to handle the epic overshadowing potential of Robin himself? Can a secondary character in a legend that dates back to the 14th century be a hero?

Yup.

The story opens with one of the best first lines I’ve read in awhile: “Will Scarlet hated trees.”

Will Scarlet is also in deep shit. He’s about to ambush a coach traveling through the woods, and when the rush commences, he realizes that something is way rotten in that forest among the not very merry men with whom he’s fighting. Meg of Keyworth is also in deep shit. She’s blind, her sister’s been arrested (by Will – oops), and her alchemic experiments have caught the eye of many a nefarious character who seeks to take advantage of Meg, and of her blindness, and to top that, her coach was just ambushed in the woods. When Will realizes that the double crossing might be increased by an exponent of 436, and Meg realizes that she has to rely on Will whether she wants to or not (and she doesn’t, really, see above re: sister), the layering of internal and external conflict is a fourteen-foot Napoleon torte of deep shit.

Will Scarlet is tremendously enjoyable. His dialogue is sardonic and sarcastic and with each successive scene he staples on a sense of disinterest, while every now and again betraying his inner reaction to the situations he finds himself in. To wit: “Ohshitohshitohshit. Ok, play it cool.” He’d be the actor with the slightly manic eyes and the utterly still expression on his face.

Meg is curious. It would take a hell of heroine to stand up to the mythic and fictional Will Scarlet, and while she’s prickly, somewhat nuts, freaking brilliant, stubborn, not a little dangerous and fully aware of her own worth as a female (fail) alchemist (win) who is blind (fail fail fail) and has a tendency to set things ablaze (fail).

But as I said, the setting is as much a reason why this book drew me in within a few pages each time I picked it up. Lofty pushes a lot of potential buttons, from the familiarity with the legend the novel’s based on, to the sexual experience and attitude towards sex on the part of the characters, particularly Meg’s ambivalent realism. Some readers may object to the degree of assertiveness with which Meg approaches all things in her life, including and especially her own sexuality. She’s smarter than just about everyone and she knows it, and she’s terribly curious and insatiable in every sense. Her interactions (ahem) with Will are incendiary from the start, and watching them figure their way to an emotional connection through the heat of their attraction is part of the adventure of their story.

Will’s equally stubborn adherence to his own values, which are, namely, “Rule #1. Save my neck. Rule #2: see #1” add plenty of conflict as well. Further complicating the potential of the setting and the sexuality is the concept of nobility and chivalry that is all up in that time period. The subtexts of the plot contain an exploration of not only nobility and honor, which are a familiar discussion in the subtext of romance, but also the concept of chivalry – a slightly different concept that draws upon the first two. Will is inherently chivalrous, even when he’s being an utter dog, and that ingrained sense of conduct informs his decisions, and Robin’s too.

Speaking of Robin, by the time he rolls in, I was begging to see him despite dreading his arrival in the beginning, because his role – and rule – in Will’s life leads to such depths of conflict and unresolved anger that he has to show up to complete Will’s journey. I worried that he’d overshadow Will as the hero, because, well, how could he not? He’s fucking Robin Hood (adjective, not verb). And how to allow Robin to remain a hero in his own right? Can Will be the hero of his own story without removing any of Robin’s heroism? These are not easy tasks, to say the least.

The action sequences are also spectacular, and they had an almost cinematic quality to them. I could see how they’d be filmed, or how they’d play visually, which underscores the descriptive talent in narrating and blocking at work in the book. The other fun part of this novel is the adventure that makes the plot look like the end result of a game of dominos. Right turn here, wait backwards we go, double cross! No wait, over there, wait, right turn, run! There’s no predicting how the mysteries will be resolved. Neither Will nor Meg are sure who to trust, or if they can even trust each other, and even the reader is challenged to figure out the potential motivations and machinations of every character – including the protagonists – as Meg and Will puzzle through their quest.

Speaking solely for myself, I definitely read and heard and saw in my mind’s movie theatre a whole lot of Christian Slater as Will. From the sarcasm to the quick and wry wit to the rapid-fire replies and general smart assery, Slater took up residence in my brain. For me, that’s not at all a problem. But if it could be due to the fact that I’ve rocked a crush on him since Pump Up the Volume and much preferred looking at him versus at Kevin Costner in Prince of Thieves. I couldn’t possibly predict how another reader may interpret or experience celebrity interference but it makes me wonder how that would affect a reader’s experience, particularly since, even though Lofty’s skillz with dialogue are fab and the banter is fantastic – even when Meg and Will are fighting, it’s fun to eavesdrop on them – I definitely had a preference for Will. Meg often irritated the crap out of me – she is not your typical limp washcloth easily likable heroine.

However, in creating a heroine who is singular, irritating, prickly, brave, strong and brilliant, Lofty did something that I as a reader always appreciate: she wrote an intelligent romance, and she treats the reader as if the reader is intelligent as well. I always enjoy and respect that.

So in setting herself up with an enormous challenge to scale, from using a medieval legend and a well-known and frequently-portrayed character as the hero for a romance to developing a heroine who is his equal and allowing readers to both invoke their own impressions of Will Scarlet and enjoy the author’s liberties with the character, Lofty gave herself a mighty tall obstacle to cross.

Fuck me. She cleared it.


Interested in a copy of the book? I’ve got five – so leave a comment and, in poetic form of your choosing, express your love for all things Robin Hood, Will Scarlet, and Sherwood. Emphasis on wood.


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Comments are Closed

  1. 1
    moom says:

    Big men with big wood
    Outlaws lurking in Sherwood
    Always get all the chicks.

    >< Okay so haiku are not my best form, but I’m feeling too lazy to go for a full Spenserian sonnet, which is my usual poetic oeuvre.

  2. 2
    dizmo says:

    An outlaw who lived deep in Sherwood,
    Will Scarlet would frequently make good.
    Near a lady, I’d mention
    He’d stand at attention
    And as for his wood, well, it sure would!

    … That was so bad, but it’s 2am, so, ah well.

  3. 3
    TaniaduCanada says:

    Hmm, poetry’s never been my strong suit but I’ve always had a thing for the Robin Hood legend (Disney, Marsha Canham, BBC Robin Hood, and Mel Brooks), so I will make an attempt.

    Robin Hood has many faces
    Will has near as many.
    With Maid Marian I’d trade places
    Because, hell, I’d take any.

  4. 4
    Ana says:

    Sarah, what a wonderful review of a wonderful book – spot on, agree with everything you said, including the part about how cinematographic the book was. The action sequences were so much fun to read and of course, Will Scarlet was SUCH a hero. I too, loved the opening line and how it came back again later in the book, full circle.

    The more I think about the book, the more I like it, definitely one of the highlights of my reading and reviewing year. 

    (No need to enter me in the contest.)

  5. 5
    Charlene says:

    There once was a man named Will Scarlett
    Who sometimes would act like a varlet.
    When a maiden named Meg
    Flashed him far too much leg
    He rose up and he called her a not-very-nice girl with an bad attitude and too much spunk for her own good.

  6. 6
    ev says:

    I love all things Robin Hood, from Errol Flynn to Mel Brooks. And I can’t come up with anything because, running through my head the entire time I was reading the review?

    We’re men,
    We’re men in tights.
    Tight, tights!!

  7. 7
    Colleen LeBlanc says:

    On his wood
    I could
    With Robin Hood

    Ok – so my mind is totally in the gutter – my hormones are running amok :-)

    (although my capcha (sp?) is members81 – that maybe could tire me out! *g*)

  8. 8

    I’m so ordering this from Amazon right now.  It sounds fanfreakingtastic.

  9. 9

    I’d keep my gold in
    my cleavage if I thought that
    Will would retrieve it.

    Obviously I’m not much good at poetry, but I once had a very bad date where we went to see Robin Hood (with Kevin Costner) I’d love a good book to wipe that episode from my mind.

  10. 10
    Ashwinder says:

    I ordered it yesterday based on the Dear Author review. I loves me some medieval and I loves me my Robin Hood. When I saw your grade this morning it only made me happier.

  11. 11
    Elizabeth Wadsworth says:

    This one sounds like a must-have.  I love the medieval period and am curious to read what sounds like a very original take on the Robin Hood story.  (No rhymes, alas, my brain just isn’t up to it this morning.)

    Spamword:  nuclear14 Will and Meg have 14 explosive encounters?

  12. 12
    Julie Leto says:

    I don’t do poetry…but I wanted to say YEAH to the review and YEAH to the book!  Definitely sounds like something I’d love, especially the heroine, frankly, who sounds fascinating.  Off to check if it’s available for the Kindle…

  13. 13
    Julie Leto says:

    Not only available for the Kindle, but only $3.19!!!  Wahoo!

  14. 14
    Sarah says:

    I’m glad you liked it!  I was intrigued when I heard the premise and was afraid of the treatment of Robin Hood in the story.  I always think of that cheesy show from the 1950s, and try and forget about the current show on BBC America.  Except for the guy playing Guy.  I love Richard Armitage. 

    Ok, here goes my attempt:
    Robin Hood is cool.
    But Maid Marrian is better.
    She’s friend with the Queen.

    (Its from an episode of the 50s show)
    (I like Jenyfer’s a lot.  Mostly because I agree with the sentiment)

  15. 15
    katiebabs says:

    Screw Robin! I always had a thing for the evil sheriff. Don’t get me started on BBC Robin Hood and the drop dead gorgeous Guy aka sex on a stick Richard Armitage.

  16. 16
    Ziggy says:

    ROBIN HOOD! “Solid gooooooold hubcaps!” This made my day! I’m definitely buying this, I collect Robin Hood books. (So far the best has been “Sherwood” by Parke Godwin. The Sheriff of Nottingham – I would any day. Robin too.)

    big52 – too easy.

  17. 17
    Babs says:

    Okay…found this quote about Scarlet (check wikipedia!)

    “He is the most skilled swordsman of the merry men” !!!

    Tee hee.

    And yeah, the sheriff always did it for me…who can forget Alan Rickman?!? But my fav Robin has to be Michael Praed from the “Robin of Sherwood” series in the early 80’s. Sigh.

  18. 18
    Cassie says:

    Someone needs to remind me of this when I get my Kindle for Christmas! It sounds like a really great read.

  19. 19
    Sarah Frantz says:

    Would Will meet Meg?
    Will Will greet Meg
    with Will wood.

    Lame, I know, but I’d like to take a look at the book!  :)

  20. 20

    Will Scarlet hates treez
    Blind Meg duz her alchemeez
    ….??

    Okay, total fail on the last line (anyone… anyone?  Bueller… Bueller?).  Sorry.  Brain dead.  Loved the review, must check out the book!

  21. 21
    Sarah S says:

    The Merry Men are merry
    One and all.
    Because Little John is not
    so very small.

  22. 22
    Sarah F. says:

    Mmmmmm… outlaws. This book sounds fabulous. Here’s my contribution to the cause:

    Robin! Robin! Burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What mortal hand or eye
    Could tame thy fearful symmetry?

    Towards which lady’s bodice-ties
    Burns the fire of thine eyes?
    Who can make thee hard as rock?
    What the hand dare seize the cock?

    And whose coy, alluring arts,
    Could twist the sinews of thy heart?
    Whose touch can raise your quarterstaff,
    And also, perchance, make you laugh?

    What the hammer? what the chain?
    Could manacle both rod and brain?
    Dare I reach beyond the bow
    To the man who lies below?

    One sight of thee, and I am lost,
    I must have thee, whate’re the cost.
    I’ll gladly brave thine outlaw fire,
    To quench the flames of my desire.

    Robin! Robin! Burning bright
    In the forests of the night,
    What mortal hand or eye
    Could tame thy fearful symmetry?

  23. 23
    AbbyT says:

    Here goes nothing:

    The Merry Men are truly forlorn
    Young, beardless the weep and mourn
    For some hot wooden heat
    Any woman will entreat
    The brooding sextasticness of Gisbourne.

  24. 24
    Tina C. says:

    A Really Bad Poem

    (Don’t say I didn’t warn you!)

    As an angsty teen, so woeful and sad,
    I wrote such poetry, so woeful and bad,
    That I swore off verse, so wooden and … (Hmmmmm…can’t say bad again.  Fad dad glad mad schmad.  Oh, hell, schmad isn’t even a word!)

    But this book I do covet—
    I’m sure I would love it!
    And I’m sure Will wood…er…shove it (Oh dear god!)
    Too.

    (If I promise to never write poetry again, can I have a book, please?)

  25. 25
    AbbyT says:

    “Young AND beardless THEY weep and mourn”

    Got too caught up in linking to the right page I forgot to re-read.

  26. 26
    jennyOH says:

    Much as I would love to read this book, the muse hasn’t moved me this morning.  But damn!  Sarah F, that is amazing.

  27. 27
    Wendy says:

    Oh you’ve found ye olde weak spot….

    (with only the tiniest of apologies to Poe)
    When I was a child and he was a child
    in a city by the river,
    I used to stalk my back garden
    with arrows in a quiver. 

    The neighbor boy would come to play.
    He, in black eye patch
    Would wring his hands and chuckle madly,
    Evil plans to hatch. 

    “Your shemes shall come to naught!” I cried.
    Then from my tree, I did fly,
    And fit an arrow to my bow
    to take his other eye!

    (True story…I once shot the neighbor boy in the eye with my suction cup bow and arrow while playing Robin Hood.  Dad had to be the Sheriff after that.)

  28. 28
    Carrie Lofty says:

    Jessica Anderson: the last line is a piece of cake if you know what Will winds up making her do…

    Will Scarlet hates trees
    Blind Meg duz her alchemeez
    And learns to say pleeze.

    I’m cracking up here in the frozen colds of Wisconsin. Keep ‘em coming!

  29. 29
    Courtney S. says:

    I’m a Robin Hood freak and I didn’t know about this book! WTF!
    I can’t rwrite poetry but I can tell you I have the single largest(In Las Vegas at least) Collection of Robin Memorablia. Including normal (movie posters from all the different movies.) To the rare( and 18th century book on RH and a page from the Chicago Trib from 1939 with glorious full color whole page Errol Flynny goodness) and the just play strange(a thimble in the shape of an arrow)
    I write my thesis paper on the Celtic myths in the Robin Hood legends and it was published by a literary journal.
    I am Robin Hood Junkie. As me anything about the legend and I am so trivia princess. It’s a sickness, I know, but there are no Robin Hood intervention meetings. LOL
    Oh and I have a 4 foot by 6 foot BBC AMerica bus stop sign featuring Jonas Armstrong.
    Did I mention I love RH? LOL

  30. 30
    Kathy says:

    While not 100% related to my love for all things Robin Hood (nor wood in general), I must say:

    I screamed with laughter
    at “He’s fucking Robin Hood
    (adjective, not verb)”

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