Review: Lady Thief by A.C. Gaughen

Thursday, November 21, 2013
Title: Lady Thief
Author: A.C. Gaughen
Genre: historical fiction, mythic fiction
Series: Scarlet #2
Pages: 322 (ARC)
Published: expected February 11 2014
Source: publishers via NetGalley
Rating: 4/5

Scarlet’s true identity has been revealed, but her future is uncertain. Her forced marriage to Lord Gisbourne threatens Robin and Scarlet’s love, and as the royal court descends upon Nottingham for the appointment of a new Sheriff, the people of Nottingham hope that Prince John will appoint their beloved Robin Hood. But Prince John has different plans for Nottingham that revolve around a fateful secret from Scarlet’s past even she isn’t yet aware of.

 Forced to participate at court alongside her ruthless husband, Scarlet must bide her time and act the part of a noblewoman—a worthy sacrifice if it means helping Robin’s cause and a chance at a future with the man she loves. With a fresh line of intrigue and as much passion as ever, the next chapter in Scarlet’s tale will have readers talking once again.

It's been almost two years since I read A.C. Gaughen's delight debut Scarlet, a cheeky little Robin Hood retelling featuring Maid Marian... as Will Scarlet. It was fresh idea and the execution was top notch; rewriting such a beloved and familiar tale is a tough job but the author acquitted herself admirably well. Since then I've read other novels about Robin Hood, but none have surpassed this genderbending young adult series as my favorite.

A.C. Gaughen is a smart, evolving author. She has grown since her first novel and Lady Thief reflects this new maturity and growth. On the whole, Lady Thief is crisper, engaging, clever. The plotting is tighter, the characters are more vibrant and realistic. That's not to say that Scarlet wasn't great and a ton of fun to read because it was -- but there was room for improvement. With this second novel, one that doesn't miss a beat, Gaughen shows she is honing her craft and her abilities have only sharpened.

When I say that this is an author to watch, I mean it. She pulls off some impressive authorial sleigh-of-hand throughout these two books. Not once, not twice, but three times was I greatly surprised by the path the author chose to take. She took some risks with her story and her characters -- while there are clear good vs. bad guys (like Richard vs. John), some are wonderfully morally gray in their presentation. It's easy to dismiss Gisbourne as the overall antagonist, but some subtle hints and comments show the would-be Sheriff as more than a one-note villain.

Scarlet/Marian remains the same stubborn, fierce, determined girl she was before. She's dynamic and active, fully involving herself in plots and plans with her band. It could be difficult to read about her treatment over the course of the novel, but Scarlet is so stalwart it's hard to dwell on her misfortunes when she is too busy saving Rob to linger. Her voice is authentic and clear, but her dialect can take a little adjustment. She is prone to running unprepared into tense situations and can make for a frustrating narrator due to her stubbornness. She's fallible, and human and imperfect.

The second time around the romance still has a few missteps, but it was evenly handled. Forced into marriage with Gisbourne to save Robin, Scarlet is once again the center of a love triangle. While the John Little - Scarlet - Rob triangle detracted from the first novel for me, this one actually added something to the novel. Her sham of a marriage to save Rob is unusual to say the least. You don't see a lot of married YA heroines. Much less married-but-loves-another YA heroines. Her struggles to annul her marriage and be with Rob play a a key but smaller part of her motivation for the whole book.

There is still plenty of story to explore in Robin Hood/Will Scarlet's myth for Gaughen to explore and remake in her own style. There are several deviations from the main plot by now, but the changes illustrate Gaughen's individual plot ideas and mesh within the larger frame easily and well. The book winds up after some crucial developments, and while the wait for a third novel will be painful, if it follows in the pattern of Scarlet and Lady Thief before it, it will be the best novel yet.

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