Book Review: Scarlet (A.C. Gaughen)

Credit: Barnes and Noble

Synopsis

Scarlet is good at keeping secrets. To the people of Nottingham, she’s Will Scarlet, the young lad who protects those who cannot protect themselves. To Robin Hood and his band of thieves, she’s the girl with a tongue as sharp as her knives. But nobody knows the truth about Scarlet’s life before Nottingham–not even Rob, whose quick smiles have the rare power to unsettle her. And when someone from her past comes hurtling back into her life, everything she’s fought for is suddenly at risk, including her own life . . .

BarnesandNoble.com

Review

Read: April 2020

Rating:

Rating: 1 out of 5.

Spoiler warning!

This book might share the title with Marissa Meyer’s fantastic Scarlet, but readers will find no such entertainment here. Those of you who’ve read my previous blog posts know that I frequently buy books when the Nook Store has them on sale in their “$2.99 and Under” section. Scarlet is one such read. It took me almost three days to finish reading this book – and not because the story was so intricate and riveting that I wanted to savor it. I was only able to stomach so much each day.

It’s difficult to choose a starting point from my litany of complaints, but I’ll begin with the narration. The narration is first-person, which wouldn’t be a problem if Scarlet could adhere at least somewhat decently to grammar. Yes, I am a self-described grammar snob, so it really rankles me that Scarlet talks like this through the entire book:

“The words fell soft between us, and they settled and grew till all I could think of were the quiet.”

“It were Rob, sitting with his back against the door.”

I understand that Scarlet speaks this way in an effort to dissociate from her former life as a noble, but it drives me absolutely crazy to read two hundred pages in which the narrator pretends that she’s never so much as heard of an adverb. It’s not impossible to capture Scarlet’s manner of speaking in a way that’s much more palatable to readers. Brandon Sanderson’s character Lift from The Stormlight Archive cannot read or write but is one of the cleverest characters in the series. Sanderson manages to convey all of that through Lift’s third-person narration. Narrating Scarlet from a third-person perspective and highlighting Scarlet’s speech patterns through dialogue with other characters might have made the book more bearable while still capturing her voice and character.

The descriptions and diction could use some work too. Gaughen seems overly fond of maritime metaphors and similes when it comes to Rob’s eyes.

“Loving him felt like drowning in his ocean eyes, like a tide I couldn’t hold back…”

“My cheeks felt hot and red under his fingers, and he smiled, his eyes heavy like the weight of the ocean.”

“All soft wet-wheat hair, eyes that were gray blue like the English Channel…”

“His ocean eyes…”

If she had described Rob’s eyes using the English Channel simile once and then maybe referred to his eyes as “blue” now and again, that would’ve been fine. But for the love of God, this book is only two hundred pages. Readers do not need to be constantly reminded how fucking “oceanic” Rob’s eyes are. At least utilize the numerous free thesauruses available on the web. They’re there for a reason. For all the effort Gaughen exerts reiterating the exact hue of Rob’s eyes, the imagery for the rest of the story is mediocre at best. The story and setting aren’t immersive – they feel distant and second-hand.

Perhaps most importantly, my feelings about the characters – with the exception of Much, who is an absolute gem – run the gamut from “you’re moderately annoying” to “I despise you.” Scarlet falls into the former category. I hate the way she talks, and her character is just drab. But Rob and John, who are both attracted to Scarlet, have the dubious honor of falling into the “holy hell, you’re horrible” category.

Honestly, I’m not sure who is worse. Rob is a brooding, mercurial jackass who thinks he’s hot stuff for being the town hero. He has a very obnoxious tendency to unnecessarily pull rank on others in his group. For instance, he doesn’t seem to think twice about butting into Scar’s business with John beyond what she’s asked him to be involved in. He offers to head off John if his advances become obtrusive and proposes not pairing off John and Scar for scouting because she appears uneasy around John; then he almost immediately turns around and tells Scar to quit playing John and choose because she’s disturbing the band’s dynamic. Scar has actually been pretty straightforward with John, so this comment is ridiculous – and it reduces her to tears. When Gisbourne shows up and it’s revealed that Scarlet was engaged to him by her parents against her will, Rob tries to comfort her by reassuring her that she’s not property to be returned to its rightful owner but then promptly blames her for concealing her unwanted engagement from him. Never mind that Scarlet’s creepy fiance, whom she’s been avoiding for two years, is plotting to kidnap her and marry her. Naturally, this is all about Robin. Then comes this beautiful exchange:

“Because you’re engaged, and because even if you weren’t, you’re with John.”

“I’m not,” I said.

His hand pushed me away, and he sounded angry but his eyes just looked like I’d stabbed him. “Well, then that makes you a whore.”

Wow, Rob. Way to win a girl’s heart.

At the end of the book, as Rob and Scar are discussing their relationship, Scarlet reminds him of this insult. His justification? He’s punishing himself by being an asshole to her and he was just jealous of John. I don’t recall him ever truly apologizing for that jab, by the way. If my memory serves, the phrase “I’m sorry” never crosses his lips – at least not regarding that incident. Plus, he faults Scar for Gisbourne’s capturing of two dozen people, even though she’s clearly not responsible for the situation.

Don’t start thinking John is a better option either. He’s interested in Scar. That’s fine. He kisses her. Okay. She’s trying to work out her feelings about this; he wants to define their relationship. Alright. But his behavior leaps over the line between reasonable and creepy to land firmly on the creepy side. After Scarlet explicitly tells him that she cares for him but does not want him to kiss her, he sees fit to respond like this:

“And you do want to be kissed by me. Don’t lie.”

At another point, John, being the smooth operator that he is, thinks it’s appropriate to ogle at Scar and make sexual comments about her while she’s being treated for a serious wound. Are you shitting me? Scarlet doesn’t deserve either of these louts.

Fairy tale retellings hold a lot of potential, but Gaughen fails to tell a good story altogether. Between the irritating narration, the lackluster imagery, the slut-shaming, and the boorish love interests, there’s not much to love about this book. The only thing it really had going for it when I read it was quarantine – and if the only reason I’m reading a book is just to kill time and nothing else, it’s just not good.

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