What a Scoundrel Wants

Carrie Lofty
2008, Medieval Romance
Zebra, $3.99, 320 pages, Amazon ASIN 1420104756

Grade: B+
Sensuality: Hot

I have loved Robin Hood books from a variety of authors ranging from Parke Godwin to Marsha Canham, and I am so happy to see a book that sits well alongside them. While the publisher, for reasons unknown, elected to punish this month's debut author with a stupid title and a hideous cover (you can actually see the model's chest stubble (not attractive), What a Scoundrel Wants is a solid read. The tale focuses on the much-maligned Will Scarlet rather than Robin himself, and the author gives readers a good, meaty story as well as a passionate romance.

Though Will Scarlet starts the story as a man of mystery, readers learn very quickly that there is tension between him and his uncle, Robin of Locksley. In fact, as the book opens, Will is working for the Sheriff of Nottingham. When Will finds himself caught in the midst of a plot against an English noble, he knows that he must flee or die. As he leaves the scene of the ambush, he rescues a mysterious woman traveling with the party.

In the ensuing rush through the woods, it takes Will some time to realize that his companion is blind and it takes him even longer to appreciate the strength and deep intelligence missed by most who know her condition. Meg of Keyworth lost her sight to illness and lives with her sister in the forest as an outcast. As Will soon learns, Meg has a mission of her own. Her sister sits jailed, brought there by none other than Will himself. Needless to say, the two do not become fast friends at the very outset.

Despite the strong distrust between the two, Meg and Will learn to work together in interesting ways. Meg starts this book rather unevenly, at times showing impressive strength, while at others appearing beaten-down and desperately needy. Given that she has lost her sight, her family, and has been exiled to a forest full of peasants who fear and scorn her, I found this hardly shocking. Will, too, has his weaknesses. One does not need to look far to see the chip on his shoulder.

Still, something about Meg's combination of strength, vulnerability, and occasionally amazing brazenness touches Will. She manages to reach beneath his reserves and understand parts of him that remain hidden to most of the world. Watching this process unfold slowly and at times painfully through the course of the story was a delight. While Meg's blindness does pose problems for both of them, I liked that the author handled this in a manner that both made sense and did not feel hackneyed.

At some points, Meg does seem a touch too slow to get her footing, but given the plot, I had trouble feeling more than minor irritation. The author convincingly lays out a story of crosses and double-crosses in which it can occasionally be difficult to tell who is on which side. And with characters playing on both sides at times, the dilemma increases. I could have used a little more fleshing out of the motives behind some characters' actions as I sometimes felt a little disconnected from the book, but overall, the story satisfies.

While What a Scoundrel Wants is really part-legend and part-historical, the author creates a very convincing England-that-might-have-been. Fans looking for a romance with both a good relationship and a meaty, satisfying story should check this one out. I enjoyed visiting this world, and the emotional payoff at the end was wonderful. There is a sequel that appears to be set in medieval Toledo coming out in 2009. I fully intend to read it.

-- Lynn Spencer

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