What I Am Reading: The Forest Queen

This week I am reading Betsy Cornwell’s novel The Forest Queen. It’s a retelling of the Robin Hood story with a female version of Robin Hood. It’s also a story set in the same world as her previous duology, Mechanica and Venturess, but it’s set a long time before those stories take place.

I’m not far into this book yet, but I am enjoying it. It’s dark, but then the source material is pretty dark as well. As colorful and fun as many versions of the Robin Hood story are, it’s one where you can’t really ever pull out all the darkness. Even Disney’s animal version has some very hopeless feeling parts and portrays some very cruel things going on. Perhaps that’s why the story needs the lightness we so often give it – to counteract the heavy dark themes that are unavoidable in it. Regardless, Betsy Cornwell is definitely not trying to remove the darkness.

The heroine, Sylvie, is interesting and she definitely embodies the idea of the noble who becomes aware of the plight of the common people until they cannot do nothing about the atrocities they face any longer. I am interested to see how she is going to carry that quest forward, and how the complex interplay with her brother (the Sheriff) is going to play out. Cornwell has definitely not skimped on making him villainous!

One aspect of this book that I wasn’t expecting, but is intriguing, is the gender changes that she has made to the story. While Cornwell has gender-reversed Robin, making him into the noblewoman Sylvie, and turned Little John into Little Jane, she has chosen not to reverse the genders of the villains. From a fantasy medieval setting standpoint, this makes sense – men are the ones in power and these versions definitely exercise male kinds of power. But it also changes the tenor of the story a bit in making it a story of women fighting against men with great and terrible power. I’m not sure how I feel about that yet, but it has struck me very strongly so far and I’m interested to see how it plays out through the rest of the book!

I enjoyed Cornwell’s duology and am interested to read more of this one. Her prose and worldbuilding are interesting and well done, which keeps me interested even during her very slow-burn storytelling style.

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