I received a free copy of this book from the author in exchange for an honest review.
Because I’m on a life-long quest to find and devour books about Robin Hood and his Merry Men, I was delighted to stumble upon The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale. A Renaissance Faire populated by living legends like King Arthur, Merlin, and the dashing Robin Hood? Count me in!
At the start of the story, newly orphaned minstrel Allyn-a-Dale is brought, rather unexpectedly, to the mystical Avalon. Avalon is a “place of magical renewal,” a refuge where legendary beings are kept alive and well by the magic of the fey. In order to keep the modern-day people who don’t live in Avalon (known as “Outsiders”) from discovering their secret, the legends hide in plain sight, operating Avalon as a Renaissance Faire and pretending to be actors portraying their real selves.
“While you’re in Avalon, you are employed by the Faire. Do room, board, and conditionally eternal youth sound like fair wages to you?”
Allyn is graciously permitted to join the Faire’s residents as one of Robin Hood’s Merry Men. All goes smoothly until someone steals the magical artifact that concentrates the faeries’ power and keeps Avalon’s residents alive. Robin and his crew vow to recover the artifact, and they venture into the modern world in pursuit.
Legendary characters and modern ways of life clash in this book; in many ways, it’s quite jarring. For example, I found it disconcerting that the wizard Merlin owns a computer. Likewise, there’s something vaguely horrifying about hearing one of the Merry Men utter the words “chillax, you pedant,” or seeing Queen Guinevere “grooving along to the Rock Minstrel’s ‘Round Table Rhapsody’” while playing a Dance-Dance-Avalon video game.
That said, there are times when it’s amusing to see the Merry Men try to assimilate to contemporary culture. Will Scarlet, Robin’s cousin and fellow outlaw, is an Outside/pop culture enthusiast, and he serves as the Merry Men’s sometimes-bumbling-yet-always-energetic guide during the jaunt through the “real” world. There’s a great scene when the group is initiated into the mysteries of placing an order in a fast-food drive-through, and I enjoyed the irony of Robin shopping for clothes at Target. (Archery…targets…get it?) Best of all, though, is when Will tries to engage the Merry Men in a “traditional road-trip game,” at which time his companions totally fail to grasp the nuances of the Alphabet Name Game.
There’s a great deal of goofy humor in The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale, some of it hitting its mark and some of it not. A few of the cheesier lines had me wincing, like when Merlin learns Allyn’s name and asks, “How do you spell that?” Allyn promptly supplies, “T,H,A,T,” which made me groan out loud.
“His gaze incredulous, Allyn whispered, ‘Do you really rob people?’
‘Unless you count the outrageous price of an ice cream cone around here, not so much nowadays,’ Will said, with a matter-of-fact shrug.”
My main complaint about this novel is that it’s simple and one-dimensional. While I found it to be a very pleasant book, I would have liked greater complexity and depth. It was much lighter and fluffier than I expected, and the characters’ lack of substance left me unsatisfied.
Ultimately, while I enjoyed adding this new Robin Hood story to my quiver (see what I did there?), the overall tone wasn’t exactly what I’d bargained for. I find I prefer more complex Robin Hood tales, with conflict and an edgy tone, to the light-hearted versions like this one. That said, The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale boasts a fun premise and great writing, so if you’ve an interest in merry outlaws, it’s still worth giving this book a shot.
And now, I’ll leave you with a few amusing quotes from the book:
“There’s a lot of overlap, I’ve found, between the truth and the impossible.”
“…Merlin paused between the chairs of Gawain and Lancelot, turned to face those assembled, and announced, ‘Just so everybody knows, we are all thoroughly screwed.’”
“‘Thank you,’ said Allyn, lovingly embracing his guitar-lute as a mother would her ugly baby.”