A month ago I reread a book I loved in preparation for the second book in the series, and it struck me how great an example the book was for so many aspects of writing: setting, characters, language, pacing, plot, romance… And, well, the sequel didn’t disappoint.
So here are the top five reasons you should pick up A.C. Gaughen’s Scarlet and Lady Thief. (When you’re done reading those, you’ll have your own reasons for anxiously awaiting the third book in the series.)
1. The Premise. Talk about a great idea: Will Scarlet, one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men, is actually a girl in disguise.
2. The writing. If you’ve ever read a book where dialect pulls you out of the story and feels more clunky than natural, you know why I approach dialect-heavy books with caution. I tiptoed my way into Scarlet after reading reviews mentioning the main character’s speech pattern. Scarlet—Gaughen’s disguised-as-a-boy version of legend’s Will Scarlet—speaks in a lower-class tongue, which for some reviewers took some getting used to. For example:
“Never would I have a man saying what or who were best for me, and that were all there were to it.”
I worried the dialect would be heavy handed. But Scarlet’s dialect was natural and, while rough, had its own beautiful cadence. If you plan to include a certain dialect in your story, give Scarlet and Lady Thief a read. This is how you do it.
3. The characters. Both Scarlet and Lady Thief have exciting plots that zip along, but it’s the characters that had me counting down the days until Lady Thief published. It would have been easy for Gaughen to create caricatures—it’s been done a dozen times with the Robin Hood legend alone. But Scarlet, Robin, the other Merry Men, John and Much, are all real and raw and troubled and full of heart. Gaughen isn’t afraid to give her characters demons, and I was impressed with how their pasts affected them over the course of two novels.
Writers, take note: If you want know how to use characters’ personality flaws to deepen their relationship with others and further the plot, study Robin and Scarlet. Both have some serious guilt and anger, both feel unworthy, and both sacrifice for others. The characteristics appear differently in Robin and Scarlet, but in both they are at times heartbreaking.
4. The villains. I love a villain who makes me question my hate, and that’s what happened in Lady Thief. Did I love him? No, but mostly because this isn’t Warner we’re talking about. But Gaughen took a man with no redeemable qualities in Scarlet and made me understand and feel for him.
5. The romance. I’m a sucker for romance, no matter the genre, and I wasn’t disappointed in either of these books. And before you go all “but the love triangle!” on me, let me explain. Yes, there is a love triangle with Scarlet, Robin Hood, and Little John. But it works. It’s not a love triangle in the traditional sense of the term—Scarlet doesn’t waffle between the two boys. At least, it seemed clear to me who had her heart, no matter how she felt about him or how she felt he felt about her. I’m fairly certain that last sentence made sense.
I could go on and on with the reasons I love this series, but I’d give the whole thing away. Just know that Scarlet is good. Really good. And Lady Thief is even better.
What series have you recently fallen in love with?