Sunday, March 31, 2013

Review: Maid Marian by Ella Watson

Title: Maid Marian
Author: Elsa Watson
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Three Rivers Press
Published: 2005
Pages: 314

Rating: 7 out of 10

I began reading this book with reluctance. After all, the story of Robin Hood has been told so many times, and I was mostly expecting this one to be just another Robin Hood book.
However, I was pleasantly surprised right from the beginning. Elsa Watson's writing is grounded, realistic, and elegant. I really felt as if I was there in her medieval world. The vivid setting and the fact that I love the Middle Ages prompted me to read the entire book in one sitting.

The story is about Marian Fitzwater, a girl whose young fiancee died when she was a child. Now, her fiancee's mother, the deceptive Lady Pernelle, is vying to convince Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine that she can rightfully take over Marian's lands. As Eleanor prepares to have Marian married off into a loveless arranged marriage, Marian sees no choice other than to flee along with her beloved maid. From there, she ends up joining the band of Robin Hood, a roguish outlaw, and finds herself falling in love.

Something that I loved about this story is that it doesn't try to be a re-telling of Robin Hood. It isn't about Robin, it's about Marian. The author has truly created a new character, who isn't defined or characterized by Robin or the legend that she is a part of.
All of the characters had their own personality. Marian's was well written, and I loved her loyal maid. Robin's character wasn't exactly original (it's exactly what anyone would expect from the well-known outlaw) but he wasn't awful, and I liked him. It was also interesting that the author portrayed Eleanor of Aquitaine in a less than favorable light.

The only thing that I didn't like about the story was a section in the plot that I didn't think made much sense. Robin is about to go and fight a vicious battle that he may not live through. Marian begs him to stay, because she wouldn't be able to bear it if he were to be killed. Of course, Robin goes anyways, and Marian is so outraged, she decides to leave without warning. She wanders aimlessly through the country, disguised as a peasant, and ends up living with a kindly poor woman and her family. I thought that this was all rather dramatic. And yes, the woman that Marian met was very likable and a well written minor character, but there is no point to her or Marian's departure and journey. All of that has absolutely nothing to do with anything. Wouldn't it have been more exciting to have Marian sneak off to join the fight? Or have the men return, but without Robin, so she has to go find him? Save him, maybe?
But no. Instead the author decides to send her on a pointless journey across the country.
And then, one day, Robin himself shows up! Tada! He's alive! He and Marian joyfully ride back to Sherwood Forest.
I have to say, this seemed highly unlikely to me, even a bit suspect. I kept hoping that there was some secret plot detail that the author hadn't revealed yet - How exactly did Robin find Marian? Did someone in the village tell him? What about the family she was staying with?
But no. All pointless.

However, thankfully Elsa Watson is brilliant at spinning characters off of her descriptions of rolling hills and lush countryside. Through out the book, the prose and details are wonderful. I will certainly be looking for more of her work, for this very reason. Whether pointless or relevant, all the characters were believable, especially the female ones. And her writing is graceful but without becoming unrealistic or overly dramatic.

This is a great book that I recommend. Most likely, you won't even notice the plot detour. Watson's writing is just too pretty to mind.