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The Arrow of Sherwood

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1193. A Crusader returns from the Holy Land to his home in Nottinghamshire, where he is known as a murderer. His name is Robin of Locksley. Following a youth spent with lowborn friends Robin is determined to settle into the role his father wanted for him: a lord dispensing justice to the county. But a false rumour of his death in the East has stolen Robin’s lands from him, and the country he left only four years before is now crippled by taxation and struggling to maintain the King’s law. It seems Robin must choose between his desire to regain his lost inheritance and his intention to help the commons.

In this lucidly imagined and carefully researched recreation of the era of King Richard ‘the Lionheart’, England is torn between the land-owning Norman lords and their English subjects, and it soon becomes clear that Robin can accomplish more outside the law than within it...

In this her first novel, Lauren Johnson’s knowledge as a historian brings a vividness to the project, presenting us with an authentic depiction of the sights, sounds, conflicts and furies that defined this era. A story of redemption, loss, romance and adventure, this novel will excite and enthral.

Writing and telling stories has been Lauren’s passion since she was a child. Since graduating in History from Oxford University she has pursued her interest in storytelling as Research Manager for a historical interpretation company based at heritage sites including Hampton Court Palace, Dover Castle and the Tower of London. There, she had plenty of practice at immersing visitors in a living historical world – a skill she has now brought to the world of historical fiction.

306 pages, Hardcover

First published January 1, 2013

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About the author

Lauren Johnson

3 books65 followers
Lauren Johnson grew up in Bristol and now lives in London. She studied History at Oxford University, taking a Double First. Her Masters in Medieval Historical Research explored the impact of the Wars of the Roses on noblewomen.

Lauren's latest book explores daily life in the first year of Henry VIII's reign: SO GREAT A PRINCE, ENGLAND AND THE ACCESSION OF HENRY VIII (Head of Zeus). Dan Jones has called it "a gripping and important work from a very talented new writer."

Lauren’s debut novel THE ARROW OF SHERWOOD (Pen & Sword Fiction) draws on her research experience to root the myth of Robin Hood in the brutal, complex reality of the twelfth century. Professor Nigel Saul described it as "an original modern re-working of the medieval tale, avoiding anachronisms while offering rich period detail." Dr Annie Gray said: "The retelling of this most English myth feels entirely fresh and new."

Sharing her passion for history with tens of thousands of visitors, Lauren is Research Manager for a costumed interpretation company based at major heritage sites including the Tower of London and Hampton Court Palace. In this capacity she has interpreted everything from the Anglo-Norman world to Charles Dickens’s London with the courts of Henry VIII and Henry II looming large in between. She has also spoken at academic conferences and given talks in libraries and museums nationwide.

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5 stars
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Displaying 1 - 22 of 22 reviews
Profile Image for Emily Joy.
131 reviews25 followers
April 5, 2022
(Update 4/2022) Finally reread this book, and it's even better than I remember. A full review is available on my Robin Hood blog.

If you want a historically accurate Robin Hood novel, this is it. To some, the history included in this novel might seem like too much, or maybe it might seem to slow the story down. Personally, I found that the history was used to move the story forward, place the characters in completely believable situations, and give the novel a very real world to exist in. The fact that it's so historical makes these very familiar and mythical characters seem much more real.

There are plenty of county court scenes and trials, and this book showcases the politics of the time. Some might find these scenes (of which there are many) boring, but I honestly enjoyed them. There was plenty of fun and witty dialogue, as well as important plot points.

This novel was also full of surprises. There were some I never expected to read in a Robin Hood novel. What I'm about to say may sound like spoilers, but all these things are revealed within the first 15 pages. Marian is Robin's stepsister after their widowed parents marry while he's on Crusade. This also casts the sheriff as Robin's stepfather. Marian is also somewhat happily engaged to Guy Vipont (a rather obvious replacement for Guy of Gisbourne).

It's interesting, to say the least.

All of the traditional villains are no longer villains, which is refreshing. The sheriff defends Robin to the end, and Guy is helpful a few different times as well as just being a good person stuck in a bad family. Which brings us to the Viponts as a whole. They act as chief villains, and do so marvelously.

Extra fun fact: Towards the end, Robin is placed in the same room as the Earl of Huntingdon several different times. The Earl and himself are of no relation in this book, but it's a fun nod towards all the other times when Robin is either related to the earl, or is the earl himself. Honestly, it was just a little bit trippy. And I loved it.

I would recommend this book to anyone who enjoys history, although not necessarily anyone who enjoys Robin Hood mythos. If you enjoy both, though, you should most definitely give this a read.
Profile Image for Danny Adams.
Author 23 books18 followers
May 6, 2015
Transparency notice: I won my copy of this book in an author giveaway, but that didn't affect the nature of this review.

Short review: I loved it. Longer review: One similarity that Johnson's Lord Locksley shares with the more traditional Robin Hood is that Robin is coming home from the Crusades to find Nottingham being slowly crushed by its rulers' greed. And Robin himself finds that he was thought dead and he no longer has the title to his own home, though his mother still lives in Locksley Hall - along with her new husband, Sir Walter Peverill, the Sheriff of Nottingham. In a nice twist, though, this sheriff is a decent fellow, and when Robin starts trying to do right by the commoners in Nottingham, Sir Walter is one of Robin's few overt supporters. Sir Walter also happens to be Marian's father. Marian and Robin were once betrothed, but Robin blew it (as they say), ended up being exiled to the Crusades after committing a murder in a drunken haze, and now Marian is betrothed to Sir Guy - who isn't exactly friendly with Robin, but is not his enemy either.

And Will Scarlette, by the way, is Robin's half-brother, and one who could pass as his identical twin. That's important later.

The enemies are the Viponts, the most powerful family in Nottingham, and allies of Prince John, who is the power behind the English throne while his brother King Richard is a prisoner in Germany. They are also the wards of Robin's nephew and the heir to Locksley Hall. In wanting to establish himself as a lord in Nottingham, Robin initially avoids reestablishing ties with commoners like John Blunt, who he knew and reveled with in his younger years, but the more abuses he sees perpetrated against them by the Viponts and their like, all done out of greed, the more Robin realizes he wants to help them. He tries working within the system first as a lord, but the more efforts he makes to help, the more he comes into conflict with the Viponts, until he begins shaping into the master of Sherwood Forest that fans of Robin Hood have known for centuries. His allies include Will, who can be seen as Robin while the real Robin is in the woods, and Marian, who grows closer to Robin again as he fights more and more for the people of Nottingham.

You're certainly not going to find a rehash of Errol Flynn (or Kevin Costner, or Russell Crowe) here, but I didn't want that anyway. What Johnson presents is a realistic Robin - one who found his courage in the Crusades and discovers his heart at home, one who is a thinking man when thinking needs to be done and takes action when action is required - amid a realistic late 12th century Nottingham. And one, who in the best spirit of the Robin Hood legend, needs Marion, Little John, Will Scarlette, Friar Tuck, and all the rest as much as they need him. I recommend The Arrow of Sherwood to anyone who enjoys Robin Hood or just good medieval fiction in general.
Profile Image for Deborah Pickstone.
852 reviews90 followers
June 6, 2016
This debut novel is pretty good. LJ is a historian and I think a good one. Very enjoyable version of the Robin Hood legend!

My one criticism is the trial by ordeal. If it had happened as told Robin would have been permanently crippled. That is the physiological reality. Trials by ordeal were a Catch-22 (which, of course, had not yet been invented! :P) in that if you won, you lost and if you lost - you lost. I hardly think that any person, allegedly (in those days) at the least superstitiously believing in God and knowing himself to be......being elastic with the vérité, would essay such a dangerous sport. So, please, Ms Johnson - in your next novel - it is not only the history that needs researching!
Profile Image for Blair Hodgkinson.
661 reviews20 followers
October 9, 2013
Though I found the book to be a bit of a slow-starter, I stayed with it and it picked up. The author's historical research shows on the page and many aspects of the period are authentic (and verifiable). Having read up a fair amount on the period, I might quibble over a few details in the author's historical notes, but for the most part this book is a very fair representation of late 12th century England in the reign of Richard the Lionheart.

The author's take on Robin Hood is not wholly original: once more he is the returning crusader, Robin of Locksley, arriving to find England is not the safe and lawful land he left behind; once more he has been deprived of his rightful holdings as a baron of the realm, and once again he has been rendered unfit to seek the hand of his intended bride, Lady Marian. (That could just as easily sum up the premise of the 1950s Richard Greene Adventures Of Robin Hood TV series, the 1991 film Robin Hood - Prince Of Thieves or the 2006 BBC Robin Hood series.) There are other plot elements which seem attributable to this film or that TV show, as well, notably Robin's relationship to Will Scarlette, which puts one in mind of a similar approach taken in the 1991 film.

Having said that, Ms. Johnson creditably takes those familiar trappings and weaves new webs within them in some clever and innovative ways.

Most unusually, her Robin begins by trying to work within the system to regain his lands and titles within the law. His concern for the common people of his Hundred for whom he feels responsible comes across as believable and genuine. Robin finds a truly clever and original way to hide his people in Sherwood Forest. The author's approach to the relationship between Robin Hood and Lady Marian is not a whole new take, but it is satisfying overall. The role of the sheriff of Nottingham is fleshed out as a character with whom the reader can sympathize as a man stuck between the demands of his conscience and his job.

For the most part I enjoyed the book, particularly in its richness of historical detail. The descriptions of manorial and peasant life are effective and convincing, as are those of the setting and siege of Nottingham Castle.

If the book has drawbacks, they are to be found in the book's slow start and an ending that is just a little less than fully satisfying. At the end of the day, if the author writes a sequel, I would buy it.
Profile Image for English .
697 reviews
March 20, 2015
The Arrow of Sherwood was well-told re-imagining of the Robin Hood stories, but was free of the political correctness or silliness that blights a lot of modern dramatic adaptations. All the well-known characters were present, and some of the situations and scenarios are reminiscent of some movies (Will Scarlette as Robin's illegitimate half-brother Marian acting on her own to help the poor etc), but this was a novel that very much has stands out on its own.

Some of the characterization was a break from the ordinary, and no so black and white as it is in some versions, and even Robin's own role of helping the poor comes across as more plausible than it might be in other tellings. Robin works largely within the law, for the most part (albeit often through deception), and within the system of the age, he is a rebel with a cause, but not one who turns his back on birth and social position to pursue some utopian egalitarian vision of society, or runs away from the world at the first opportunity.

Lauren Johnson is a professional historian, immersed in the period - although the emphasis is on the story, the details about the legal and administrative system of the time period add an interesting element to the story, also giving it a more credible edge. I believe the author expressed a wish to write a more accurate version of the Robin Hood stories, and she has certainly delivered. Whilst the story is not full of fast paced action (which sometimes comes at the cost of good storytelling), this novel is a satisfying, original and largely character driven retelling which is faithful to the spirit of the original tales while firmly grounded in the time period.

On a personal level, I was also pleased to find a novel that was not crammed with sex scenes and gratuitous violence to 'spice' things up. Recommended for historical fiction lovers and fans of the Robin Hood tales.
2 reviews
October 18, 2013
Well plotted story set in the 12th century, beautifully written by a first rate historian.
I really enjoyed reading this book. Even though Robin Hood is a mythical character, the entertaining, fast paced story is placed in an authentic historical setting, full of interesting detail. You learn a lot about medieval life and the detail about the social set up, the laws, the food, the towns and much more is fascinating. The author has an easy, engaging style which makes the reader keep reading to find out what happens next in the eventful story. There are lots of recognisable characters, including Maid Marian, the Sheriff and Will Scarlette and Friar Tuck. All in all a great read and I look forward to Ms Johnson's next book.
Profile Image for Laure Estep.
113 reviews28 followers
October 6, 2019
Definitely one of the best tales of Robin Hood that I've read. It was surprising the way this story took hold of me. I was reading along, liking the complexity of the conflict with the Vipont family, and all the gut-wrenchingly infuriating manipulations the corrupt system allowed, wondering about this surprisingly low-key, contained version of the usually more impulsive and volatile Robin, then all of a sudden things happen and I'm gripping the book so hard my knuckles are white, and snarling at having to put the book down to go do things. It snuck up on me. lol. Love it! This was also one of the best descriptions I've read of the siege at Nottingham Castle. In these books, King Richard has a tendency to sweep back into town and poof, everything is made right again -- cutting off Robin's heroic character arc with a magical pardon. This one at least required more from Robin, and the tension at the battle was high.
Profile Image for Alan Tomkins-Raney.
244 reviews39 followers
April 9, 2019
I rated this book 2 stars as fair. There were times while reading it that I considered 3 stars for good, but I finished it feeling kind of meh. It is a reimagining of the Robin Hood story, the first novel of a medieval historian. I found the writing to be not very evocative and the character development marginal at best. The historical detail was interesting. The storyline was ok and had definite potential for something more exciting than what was actually produced in these pages. Anyway, there it is. It kept my interest enough that I finished it, but barely. Not exactly an action thriller, and kind of trite, but not totally a waste of time.
Profile Image for Jo.
137 reviews9 followers
April 10, 2022
One of the best Robin Hood adaptations I’ve read.
Profile Image for Nolan Ridley.
22 reviews
July 5, 2014
I discovered Lauren Johnson while researching medieval history for a short story I was writing. She is an Oxford educated historian and has shared a number of wonderful gems from her research that are available online. I'm a fan of historical fiction, but I was curious that a debut author would choose the legend of Robin Hood. It seems, on the surface of it, to be very done. I won't try to explain her choices. She speaks quite eloquently for herself in this interview.
I found her interpretation of the legend surprisingly fresh and interesting, given that she does not depart strongly from the conventional context. But what I appreciated most about this book was the writing itself. By the standards of American contemporary fiction, her prose is heavy with narrative. Modern American writing tends to encourage snappy dialogue and a minimum of description. Johnson is an English author and the expectations of that audience are likely different. However, the remarkable thing about her style is how little it mattered.
Writers tend to struggle with "the smell of the rain on the pavement" problem. You have a place in your mind. It is so wonderful and vivid and powerful that you want to pour every nuance of it into your readers head. This leads novice writers to hammer away with page after page of descriptive text, trying to immerse the reader in what they see, feel, and well, smell. It rarely works out.
Johnson is not shy about delivering several paragraphs of this sort of description, but somehow, magically, it enhances the story, rather than dragging it down. She has the remarkable ability to choose words and form descriptions that transport you into her world. I've compared her in the past to Eddings and Follett's Pillars, but I might add C.S. Lewis to that list. Her writing is, in a word, immersive. It's rare that I find narrative that is such a pleasure to read.
The only criticism I have to offer is that he arc of her story is perhaps too predictable. She certainly offers danger and mystery and suspense. She composes intrigue and conflict and a wonderfully unique aspect of medieval common law. But in the end, Richard returns, and Robin's denouement seems, perhaps, too easily obtained. Perhaps it is my American appetite for the last-minute-cliff-hanger-reversal-of-fate-plot-twist that Hollywood has imposed on our expectations. I can hardly complain that the book fails to be an action movie when at the same time it so completely transports me into the world, the forest, and the struggle of these legends.
The Arrow of Sherwood is a thoroughly enjoyable interpretation of the Robin Hood myth. Johnson is a gifted author. I look forward to her future offerings.
Profile Image for Lanie.
1,055 reviews70 followers
March 4, 2017
Woo-hoo! finally finished. I've been working on this one for months. not because it was bad though. I've just been a bit to busy with work to read everyday. :C sadface!

It was really good, if a bit overly detailed. all the laws and long boring trails and riding around getting nobles and nuns to agree to things and descriptions of the culture was nice. . . . to an extent, but I do feel that it took a bit away from the plot. I can do without a lot of that so long as there's plenty of action and a great story to make up for it.

Will's my favorite. he's funny.

Robin . . . . he's very human, and he starts off pretty selfish. I'm glad that wears off after a while. he was such an ass when he was trying to play nice with those rotten Viponts.

viponts. what to say about them? eudo was great baddie, if kinda flat. he was defiantly a nice change of the sterotype sheriff. guy. . . . . cowering sheep. I hope he got trampled into a blood puddle by the king's army.
50 reviews3 followers
May 31, 2014
While I'm no expert on the period, I know enough to spot that this is the "historically authentic" take on Robin Hood and the period he lived in - the Merry Men aren't all that merry, do not dine exclusively on venison, and bear no resemblance to Legolas. All the people are people, not cardboard cut-out heroes or villains, to the point that I started off sympathising with Guy and the Sheriff rather than Robin. A good, solidly-written book, with no obvious plot holes or moments of convenient character idiocy.
That being said, it somehow never quite got that spark that would make it impossible to put down, or get it the five stars. Yes, I cared what happened to the characters, but not that much.
Profile Image for Mark Fretwell.
2 reviews
September 1, 2015
Just finished reading this book. The last few chapters made it 'unputdownable' until the book was finished.

Overall I was moved, educated and entertained.

I hope the author will write many more historical fiction books especially about medieval Sherwood.
Profile Image for E.
265 reviews2 followers
January 12, 2016
Could have used more action though. Excellent writing.
51 reviews30 followers
September 26, 2021
Ever since falling in love with the 2006 BBC series, I have been on a quest to find the Robin Hood book that gives me all the same feelings, and I think this just might be it. I adored this book from the very first page. Marion was definitely my favourite character, but I was so invested in all our 'goodies'. The character list at the back of the book was essential for keeping track of who was who when it came to the hundredmen for me, so I really appreciated its inclusion. I enjoyed the 'baddies' too because while they were terrible people, they weren't pantomime villain evil-for-the-sake-of-being-evil. Their motivations were believable. I do wish we’d got more of Robin in the forest, and known more about the ending of Guy’s story, but those are only small complaints.
Profile Image for Sam.
10 reviews
August 5, 2020
This is my favorite Robin Hood retelling I’ve read! It really does a good job of integrating historical context into the story without slowing down the book. The characterization of Robin really pushed it to the top for me though. I read so many retellings where his character is just so unlikable, but here you you truly see a well rounded and developed character. I loved following him through the different stages of the plot, and watching his character mature with each new problem he faced.
Profile Image for Barefoot Gypsy Jimerson.
486 reviews31 followers
December 14, 2019
Robin strike again.

I enjoyed a good read of Robin Hood. This different take is well wrote an one I could of read a few chapters more. So if u like a story on Robin Hood don't be shy pick it up an give it a read.
Profile Image for Steve.
151 reviews
July 20, 2021
Excellent retelling of the Robin Hood tale in a more realistic version. Love the book!
Profile Image for Leo.
8 reviews
September 14, 2015
Nice reading! I would not consider this work within historical fiction but just fiction with a couple of well know historical big characters. Didn't like the personification of the Lionhearth though. This book is definitely worth reading and offers an interesting and different perspective of the well known Robin Hood!!!
Profile Image for Gina W Fischer.
194 reviews4 followers
November 26, 2015
I loved this book! I really enjoyed the author's attention to historical detail, and I found it very entertaining and fast-paced. I heartily recommend it to anyone who likes the Robin Hood myth.
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