Will in Scarlet by Matthew Cody

Will in Scarlet

Reading level: 6.0 (ish)
Genre: Adventure
ELL-Friendly: Not particularly
Library recommendation: Middle or high school

Goodreads summary:

Will Shackley is the son of a lord, and though just thirteen, he’s led a charmed, protected life and is the heir to Shackley House, while his father is away on the Third Crusade with King Richard the Lionheart.

But with King Richard’s absence, the winds of treason are blowing across England, and soon Shackley House becomes caught up in a dangerous power struggle that drives Will out of the only home he’s ever known. Alone, he flees into the dangerous Sherwood Forest, where he joins an elusive gang of bandits readers will immediately recognize.

How Will helps a drunkard named Rob become one of the most feared and revered criminals in history is a swashbuckling ride perfect for anyone who loves heroes, villains, and adventure.

I’m not terribly familiar with the Robin Hood story, so I had no expectations going into this book, which I quite enjoyed. All I knew of the Robin Hood tale was the concept of stealing from the rich to give money to the poor, and Will, one of the main characters, does this with such purpose and urgency that it just about made my heart burst. Because there were so many characters and the focus went back and forth between Will and Much, we don’t delve deeply into Will’s character, but his actions speak volumes. Part of the reason why this story bears its title is because “Scarlet” comes from Will’s conscience being drowned in the blood of the suffering peasants (er, serfs?) under his family’s control.

In essence, Will realizes he has led a sheltered life and that the people under his father’s control have been suffering in poverty. He attempts to remedy the damage he feels responsible for by giving the serfs money that is stolen from rich people. Of course, these rich people are mugged and often wounded, but I guess it’s the thought that counts.

Much’s side of the story brings in a bit of Mulan: a girl disguised as a boy. I liked her fierceness and her need to protect Will (and vice versa) even if they didn’t trust each other until the end. Will teaches us about fairness and doing what is right while Much teaches about resilience, toughness, and being true to yourself.

I incorrectly assumed that Will would become our Robin Hood, because it’s his idea to give the stolen silver to a poor family in the first place. However, it turns out that it’s Rob that’s our Robin Hood (which, admittedly, should have been obvious just from the name…). Rob teaches us about having purpose in life. One question that never got answered, however,  was how Rob’s last name became “Hood.” Anyway, minor details…

Will in Scarlet is relatively new and not yet leveled with Scholastic. My guess at a reading level is 6th grade. Since it takes place in medieval times, some of the vocabulary is complex and specific to that time period, which makes it not particularly suitable for ELLs.  In addition, people’s titles (i.e. lord) might also be confusing. It’s more of a middle grade text, but I could see high schoolers enjoying it, too.

One aspect that might upset parents is Rob’s drinking. He’s a drunk for the first part of the book but transforms once he finds purpose, thanks to Will. I would argue that drinking is painted in a negative light; Rob’s drinking makes him useless and smelly. He comes alive only when he is sober, so, if anything, students are taught that drinking is a gross habit and does not solve your problems. To be really critical, some parents might have an issue with glorifying criminals, which the Merry Men are. First, the Merry Men live difficult and dangerous lives. Secondly, the Robin Hood story has been turned into a Disney movie. Lastly, kids play video games as criminals (I think?) such as Grand Theft Auto, so being on the side of the “bad guys” is nothing new, and it’s hardly the message of the story.

Will in Scarlet  is my thirty-first book of the 2014 TBR Pile Reading Challenge hosted by Bookish.

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