Review: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E. Shipley

The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale Book Cover The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale
Danielle E. Shipley

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

Review:

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.”

Cover Reveal and Excerpt: The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E. Shipley

Ever since the day I first watched Disney’s animated version of Robin Hood (starring a cartoon fox as Robin, a bear as Little John, and a wolf as the Sheriff of Nottingham), I’ve been infatuated with the legendary archer and his band of Merry Men. Dashing thieves who rob the rich to feed the poor, led by a cunning, charismatic hero who thumbs his nose at a false prince while pulling off daring schemes…childhood me was besotted.

My Robin Hood adoration hasn’t dimmed as I’ve grown older. I’m constantly on the lookout for new retellings, so I was overjoyed when I happened upon Danielle E. Shipley’s website during Book Blogger Love-a-Thon last month. There, lo and behold, was an announcement for The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale, Shipley’s new book about a young minstrel who finds himself among Robin Hood’s band! It’s the first installment in Shipley’s Outlaws of Avalon series, which I am deliriously excited about.

I’ll be posting a review of The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale closer to its release on July 12, 2016, but in the meantime I’m pleased to bring you the newly revealed cover and also provide an excerpt from the book.

About The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Welcome to Avalon, a Renaissance Faire where heroes of legend never die. Where the Robin Hood walking the streets is truly the noble outlaw himself. Where the knightly and wizardly players of King Arthur’s court are in fact who they profess to be. Where the sense of enchantment in the air is not mere feeling, but the Fey magic of a paradise hidden in plain sight.

Enter Allyn-a-Dale. The grief of his father’s death still fresh and the doom of his own world looming, swirling realities leave the young minstrel marooned in an immortal Sherwood Forest, where he is recruited as a member of Robin Hood’s infamous outlaw band. But Allyn’s new life may reach its end before it’s scarcely begun. Their existence under threat, the Merry Men are called upon to embark on a journey to the dangerous world Outside – ours – on a quest which must be achieved without delay, or eternity in Avalon will not amount to very long at all.

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Are you ready for the book cover and spine? Here they are in

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Book cover for The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale by Danielle E. Shipley

Cover design by Lars van de Goor and Milan van de Goor

Excerpt From The Ballad of Allyn-a-Dale

Allyn would have known Will Scarlet for a relation of Robin Hood’s even had he not been introduced as his cousin. Though clean-shaven, younger, and framed by thick locks of gold tinged with the color of his name, Will’s face was patently similar to Robin’s, with the same blue eyes that sparkled cheerily at Allyn when the two were presented to each other.

“And where’d you pick this fellow up, then, Robin?” he asked blithely.

“In my tent,” replied Robin, “with Marion.”

Will’s brows leapt toward his crimson cap’s pointed brim. “Wish I were Allyn!”

“Will…”

“Joking, joking,” Will waved aside Marion’s halfhearted rebuke. He coughed. “…Mostly. So, Allyn-a-Dale — looking to join the Merry Men, are you?”

“I don’t really know,” Allyn said doubtfully. “What are the Merry Men?”

To Allyn’s heart-thudding dismay, Will answered, “We’re an infamous band of outlaws.”

“Not really,” Marion hastened to jump in.

“Not anymore,” Little John amended.

“It’s complicated,” said Robin. “But we’re really not at liberty to tell you much more about it until we’ve spoken to Merlin.”

“That would be King Arthur’s chief counselor and illustrious wizard,” Will said in answer to Allyn’s questioning expression. “He literally runs the show around here, so—”

“No,” said Little John, his gaze a grim weight on Will Scarlet.

“Oh, would you chillax, you pedant?” Will huffed, facial muscles ticking with minor irritation. “I know you think the Outsiders have been using the word with nary a care to its meaning, of late, but I know what ‘literally’ means, and in this case, I literally meant ‘literally’!”

The marginal lowering of Little John’s brow silently warned what he would literally do to Will if he said that word but once more.

“And they’re off,” said Robin, shaking his head. “Don’t worry, Allyn, they only bicker like this when they’re both breathing.”

Allyn’s lips twitched toward the beginnings of a smile, but froze halfway, his mind only just now becoming fully conscious of what he’d heard. “Robin,” he said, fighting a sudden swell of anxiety. “Did Will just say we’re off to see a wizard?”

About the Author

Author photo for Danielle E. ShipleyDanielle E. Shipley is the author of the Wilderhark Tales novellas, the novel Inspired, and several other expressions of wishful thinking. She has spent most of her life in the Chicago area and increasing amounts of time in Germany. She hopes to ultimately retire to a private immortal forest. But first, there are stories to make.

Author Website