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We are part of a group of librarian friends who have had an ongoing book club running for the last several years. Each “season” (we’re nerds) we pick a theme and each of us chooses a book within that theme for us all to read. Our current theme is retellings and reimagings. For this blog, we will post a joint review of each book we read for book club. We’ll also post the next book coming up in book club. So feel free to read along with us or use our book selections and questions in your own book club!
Book: “Travelers Along the Way: A Robin Hood Remix” by Aminah Mae Safi
Publishing Info: Feiwel Friends, March 2022
Where Did I Get This Book: The library!
Retelling/Reimagining: Robin Hood
Book Description: Jerusalem, 1192. The Third Crusade rages on. Rahma al-Hud loyally followed her elder sister Zeena into the war over the Holy Land, but now that the Faranji invaders have gotten reinforcements from Richard the Lionheart, all she wants to do is get herself and her sister home alive.
But Zeena, a soldier of honor at heart, refuses to give up the fight while Jerusalem remains in danger of falling back into the hands of the false Queen Isabella. And so, Rahma has no choice but to take on one final mission with her sister.
On their journey to Jerusalem, Rahma and Zeena come across a motley collection of fellow travelers—including a kind-hearted Mongolian warrior, an eccentric Andalusian scientist, a frustratingly handsome spy with a connection to Rahma’s childhood, and an unfortunate English chaplain abandoned behind enemy lines. The teens all find solace, purpose and camaraderie—as well as a healthy bit of mischief—in each other’s company.
But their travels soon bring them into the orbit of Queen Isabella herself, whose plans to re-seize power in Jerusalem would only guarantee further war and strife in the Holy Land for years to come. And so it falls to the merry band of misfits to use every scrap of cunning and wit (and not a small amount of thievery) to foil the usurper queen and perhaps finally restore peace to the land.
I was very happy that book club decided to do a Re-imaginings and Remixes theme for this new session, as I like seeing the way that authors will recreate classic characters and settings with new twists and turns. But, because of course this had to happen, we started with a story whose source material I am patently unfamiliar with. Yeah, I never got much into Robin Hood, outside of the Disney version, Mel Brooks’s film “Robin Hood: Men in Tights”, and one viewing of “Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves” with two college friends who were as obsessed with Alan Rickman as I was. So I went into “Travelers Along the Way” knowing full well I was going to be potentially adrift without knowledge of source material. Which meant that author Aminah Mae Safi had a heftier job to do due to my unfamiliarity.
I’m happy to report that even without a foundational knowledge beyond a sexy fox, a spoof, and Bryan Adams, I was very into “Travelers Along the Way”. I really enjoyed all of the characters as we gathered them up and got to know them, and I enjoyed trying to figure out who was supposed to be whom (though I did have to ask more knowing people in book club, i.e. Serena, who a few of the counterparts were). I think that my favorite aspect of this was how both Rahma and Zeena have such different personalities and opinions on how they should be proceeding, and how they butt heads but still care deeply for each other, even if there is undercurrents of tension between them. I especially liked how by gender bending the characters AND giving it the POV of the OTHER side of the Crusades that Robin Hood wasn’t really dealing with in a tangible way that we got a glimpse into just how fucked everything was for the common people in the Holy Land, especially women. And finally, I enjoyed how Safi gave us not only insights into the main group of characters who were the Robin Hoo equivalents, but also into the minds and motivations of the warring figureheads, be it King Richard, Queen Isabella, or Salah al-Din Yusuf ibn Ayyub. I didn’t feel like we waded into any problematic areas by getting into their minds a little bit, but it did show the deep, deep complexities that came with this truly awful and violent conflict.
Overall, I enjoyed this one! I don’t have much to compare it to, source content wise, but it was a fun listen and it was a well done re-imagining!
I’ve read and watched a lot of versions of “Robin Hood.” My sister and I, predictably, loved “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” when we were younger, mostly because we had a crush on Carey Elwes, of course. My devotion to the tale even extended to watching the horrendous Russell Crowe adaptation that came out in 2010. Thank goodness this version is way, way better than that one!
There was a lot to like about this version of the classic tale. For one thing, I think it was really interesting to change the setting from England to the Middle East. I have to say, I’m not overly familiar with this period of time or the actual strategy and political mechanizations at work in the Middle East during the Crusades. This is a fairly short book with a lot to pack in, but I was impressed by what we got as far as the dynamics all swirling around at once during this period of time. Particularly, I thought it was interesting how the author delved into the three major religions that all hold Jerusalem as a sacred city and how this causes constant tension for all involved.
I also really liked the gender-swapping of all the characters. And boy, there were a lot of characters. But, again, especially for a rather short story, I was impressed by how well I felt like I knew every one of the “merry men/women” that made of the band of thieves. They were slowly introduced over the course of the story, but even with some of the later characters that came onto the scene, I felt like I cared about them all. Of course, I had favorites, like our main character and her fiery sister Zeena. I really liked the exploration of their sibling dynamic, and much of the love and frustration all felt very real and sympathetic.
I do wish we had seen a bit more of Rahma’s famed abilities with a bow and arrow. We hear a lot about it, but we don’t really see it much on the page until pretty close to the end of the novel. That said, I liked how the author worked in the green hood and other classic aspects of the Robin Hood tale. Overall, I definitely recommend this book to all Robin Hood fans!
Kate’s Rating 8: An intriguing re-imagining of “Robin Hood” that looks to a very different situation regarding the conflict at the heart of the original tale.
Serena’s Rating 8: A really clever reimaging of the classic tale with enough to make it familiar but a lot of new takes on characters and setting.
Book Club Questions
- How familiar were you with other versions of the Robin Hood story before reading this one? How does this stack up to any others you’ve read/seen?
- As a reimaging of the original story, many of the characters appear very different here then they do in their traditional form. Were you able to identify most of the characters with their counterparts? Were there any that you felt were particularly successful/unsuccessful reimagings?
- The version of Robin Hood is still set during the Crusades, however it changes the location from England to the Middle East, particularly the cities around Jerusalem. How much did you know about this period of time before reading this? Was there anything that stood out to you about how it was portrayed here?
- There are a few interludes in this story told from other characters’ perspectives. What did you think of these chapters? What did they add to the story or did they distract you from the primary plot?
- Our bookclub had a lot of fun going over the chapter titles. Did you notice these? Did you have any favorites?
Next Book Club Pick: “The Poison Heart” by Kalynn Bayron