cover image The Forestwife

The Forestwife

Theresa Tomlinson. Orchard Books (NY), $16.95 (170pp) ISBN 978-0-531-09450-1

Readers who wish to see Maid Marian as more than a glorified moll to the Merry Men will find much to relish in this ambitious, albeit flawed reworking of the Robin Hood legends. On the run from an arranged marriage, Mary de Holt is lead by her devoted nurse Agnes to the isolated cottage of the dreaded Forestwife. As it happens, the old Forestwife-a skilled healer with vague connections to pre-Christian traditions-has recently died and Agnes takes on her job, with Mary (renamed Marian) as her assistant. The book teems with wholesomely rough-hewn details in the style of Brian Jacques's Redwall series: the inherited girdle of the Forestwife, for example, is ``rich with the forest dyes of madder, blackberry, sorrel, and marigold.'' Also included are less photogenically folksy period particulars, such as the use of ``scold's bridles'' to muzzle outspoken women. Almost immediately, once-sheltered Marian becomes a sort of feminist guerilla leader, enlisting an ever-growing band of (mostly female) friends to fight injustice. She also finds the time to carry on a troubled romance with Robert of Loxley (who turns out to be old Agnes's son) and to make a none-too-startling discovery about her own parentage as well. Unfortunately, the tale never quite takes off; the spark of storytelling is overwhelmed by a heavy-handed and somewhat self-righteous social agenda. Ages 10-up. (Apr.)