Ages 9-12

Merrimon Book Reviews

Richard the LionHeart

Prince John
(King of England 1199-1216)

Apart from entering popular legend as the enemy of Robin Hood, he is perhaps best-known for having acquiesced – to the barons of English nobility – to seal Magna Carta, a document which limited kingly power in England and which is popularly thought as an early step in the evolution of limited government.


From Medieval Book Reviews
The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian
Hawksmaid The Untold Story of Robin Hood and Maid Marian by Kathryn Lasky
by Kathryn Lasky

Wonderful modern retelling of a classic tale and a must for the medieval lover's collection

What was the early life of Maid Marian?  What was Robin Hood like as a young boy?  What historic events surrounded those who now have become legends in our own time?  How did the band of Merry form?  Who was Maid Marian?  History doesn't tell us much about her.

Known as Matty Fitzwalter in her childhood, the legendary Maid Marian learned the art of falconry from her father Lord William Fitzwalker.  She dreams of capturing, taming and training a merlin -- the one bird which will mark her as an expert falconer.  Matty has a magical rapport with the birds that she trains.  She speaks their language.   Fynn, the man whom legend would come to know as Robin Hood, is a mischievous boy, stealing pigs from the sheriff's cousin and deer from the royal forests to feed people.  Like Matty, Fynn strives for bigger and better things but he always has a way of making a joke out of his exploits.  Matty feels that Fynn and his friends do not take her seriously.  She struggles for his attention, but she never veers from her passion for falconry.  Both, however, will remember the times and their youthful friendship.

Matty and Fynn grow up during troubled times.  The people struggle in poverty while the tyranny of Prince John crushes them.  Lord William Fitzwalter sides with Richard the Lionhearted, only to see the brutality of Prince John's sabotage and his sheriff.   Despite the horrific loss of her mother, Matty is not a fair helpless damsel.  Previously friends, now older, Matty and Fynn work together. As they uncover a secret plot to steal the throne, Matty and her special merlin Marigold become the key for rescuing stolen jewels to provide for the King's ransom.  In order to help save the king, Matty and her magical falconry skills will have to reach a new height.

Newberry award winning author Kathryn Lasky's HAWKSMAID is a wonderful modern retelling of a classic tale, full of exciting adventure, medieval history, an intimate look at falconry and just a bit of romance for young readers.  Not only do we get a glance of the youth of Maid Marian and Robin Hood, but also those events in their lives that lead up to the legend with which we are all familiar.  Modern women and young women will appreciate the focus on Matty and Maid Marian as they see her not as a helpless woman playing second fiddle but as a key figure in the story.  Kathryn Lasky combines historical detail with fictional imagination to create a story that appeals to the desire to explore history while also being more approachable to modern day readers.  Animal lovers will appreciate the author's attention to the birds themselves and Matty's friendship with them.  A beautifully written, almost mystical scene perfectly balances the history and animal-keeping science.  The setting of the story, while very medieval, resonates slightly with modern times. 

Sensitive readers may find the mother's murder at the beginning of the tale difficult, but the violence is not gratuitous but rather shows the villains for the wicked people they are.  Without those scenes, Matty and Fynn's subsequent actions would not be driven by the characters and their history.  From those initial scenes, the story quickly moves on to focus on Matty and her hawks and the adventure.  HAWKSMAID is an excellent work of medieval fiction for modern young readers.  If you are an adult reader with a passion for all things medieval, like this reader, HAWKSMAID is a fun, exciting book to add to your collection!  While grounded in medieval history and legend, Kathryn Lasky also adds a delightful original twist!


Publisher: Harper (May 2010)
Author website

Reviewed by Merrimon, Medieval Book Reviews
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