Author: Marian Webster
It was completely impossible for me, when Mandy Webster emailed me with a copy of Viper in the Forest to request a review, to say no to it. Middle Grade fiction, yay. Empowered female protagonist, Yay. On top of that, set in the Olde Forest of Sherwood, with a new take on the tale of Robin Hood. Having been born and spent much of my life in Sherwood Forest you would think I would be bored of the stories by now, but I’m really not, and I was interested to see if Webster’s take was as exciting as she made it sound.
What we’re doing here is joining Marian and Robin in their formative years, before the legend, as it were, as a spate of mysterious robberies sweep Nottingham.
Now, to put the book’s best foot forward I have to talk about Marian here because she is exactly what I hoped she would be when I heard the tag line for the book ‘Sherwood Forest has a new hero’. She’s powerful without being over stated, smart without question, and to top it all off the level of obstinacy she displays in infuriating.
This is a good thing? I hear you ask. Yes, it is, because I hate it when books claim to have female heroines to solve the problem of lack of strong females in literature, only to make them infallible and, as a result, boring. Marion was certainly not boring, she was engaging, I liked her and even when I disagreed with her I rooted for her to come out on top.
That said Marian is the highlight character, the others that surround her, Robin especially, while being well crafted, were not likeable, at all. I’ll focus on the example of Robin; who was, and I haven’t called anyone this since I was ten but there’s really no other word for it, an absolute butt-head. Brash to the point of lunacy and obnoxious beyond the point of likability, I thought at first his presence was going to be a nudge-nudge wink-wink moment where he gets all the credit because man, while Marian, the token sensible, is, in fact, doing all the work.
But no, turns out the reader is supposed to like Robin in his own right and Marian (these are the bits where she is at her most annoying), keeps insisting he’s a good man and her friend. I just don’t see it, perhaps some scenes where Robin isn’t behaving like a selfish idiot would have helped me to agree with her, but no, there’s a bit of a nasty case of tell don’t show here.
That said, even with the relationship between the two main characters being shaky, at best, the plot of the book and the adventure Marian goes on to uncover it is not ruined. Actually, it’s rather engaging, not overly complex to be sure, but very well written, presented and paced and 100% appropriate for the middle-grade audience it’s aimed at.
There’s a few really nice nods to the history in the legend as well, Webster has used all the proper dated names, and in the moment’s where Marian is walking around the market or the keep you can see there’s been effort into describing period appropriate items and actions, and it gives the book a more tangible feel that I enjoyed rather a lot. It was a nice touch.
I can’t give the book “full marks” because I feel a trick really was missed with the supporting cast and, by extension, the relationships between them, but the strong lead character and the easy yet interesting plot still kept me reading and I finished having enjoyed myself.
A rash of robberies has been plaguing the great houses of Nottinghamshire. Knowing what she does about him, Marian is forced to ask herself whether Robin is capable of the crime spree or if his was just a one-off act of revenge.
Marian’s attempts to uncover the truth lead her into the path of the handsome young Guy of Gisbane – and danger. Kidnapped and hopelessly lost in the forest, Marian has only her wits to rely on if she and Robin hope to survive.