Although The Last Arrow can be read as a standalone, I don’t recommend it. There will be spoilers for earlier books in the Robin Hood trilogy in this review.
In Through a Dark Mist, Lucien Wardieu (aka the Black Wolf; aka Lord Randwulf de la Seyne Sur Mer, champion of Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine) plots to destroy his nefarious bastard brother Etienne and to rescue Princess Eleanor. Lord Randwulf successfully frees Princess Eleanor, but as In the Shadow of Midnight begins, she’s imprisoned again after her brother’s failed attempt to usurp King John and claim the throne of England. That book details the daring rescue of Princess Eleanor from Corfe Castle with inside help from the captain of the guard, Jean de Brevant (eventually “Littlejohn”). The villainous Guy Gisbourne is left bleeding to death, and Princess Eleanor becomes the newest novitiate at Kirklees Priory. Marienne remains with her, as does Lord Henry de Clare, who’s fallen in love with the princess. He designates himself as her protector, disguising himself as a friar and making his home in Sherwood Forest. Robin (first born son of Lord Randwulf and Lady Servanne) reluctantly departs with Ariel and Eduard, but promises to return for Marienne, his childhood love.
The Last Arrow begins in a prologue. Marienne FitzWilliam is at the market in Nottingham to trade the linens woven by the nuns of Kirklees and is unknowingly watched closely by Reginald de Braose, a town official in the service of the newly installed Lord High Sheriff of Nottingham, Guy de Gisborne (who survived after he was knifed in the last book). Beginning her two-hour journey back to the abbey, she’s joined by the local friar.
Like Marienne, he had taken no formal vows with the church, nor was he inclined to offer a prayer in lieu of a cut from his sword should his back come against a wall. He was one of the deadliest swordsmen in Sherwood and had his monk’s robes specially fashioned to afford access to the weapon he always wore strapped to his waist. He had earned the familiar name Tuck because of the assortment of knives, daggers, and blades he kept hidden in various folds and pockets of his garments, and this was just as well, because his real name, should it ever slip from an unguarded tongue, would have brought the wrath of the crown down on all their heads.
Not far from town, the pair is trapped by soldiers and knights on horseback, but the friar pleads for safe passage to the abbey for Marienne. Just before she departs he whispers “If you do not hear from me in two days’ time… get word to Amboise. Tell them the Pearl may be in grave danger and needs their help.” Spoiler alert: She doesn’t hear from him.
The Last Arrow, like the other books in the trilogy, is equal parts adventure (often misadventure) and romance. The adventure part of this story kicks off with the arrival at Château d'Amboise of an ominous message from Marienne, “They have taken Lord Henry,” accompanied by Eleanor’s ring; unfortunately, I can’t tell you much beyond that without spoilers. Suffice it to say, Lord Randwulf and Alaric FitzAthelstan agree Eleanor must be protected, but fear a trap. Robin, who has loved Marienne since they were children, is adamant they must rescue both women. Unbeknownst to the group, someone is eavesdropping at the door.
Much like Ariel in In the Shadow of Midnight, Lady Brenna Wardieu has little inclination to marry; she prefers to spend her days in the forest, bow in hand (she’s a master archer trained by Gil Golden), hunting with her brothers and closest friend William FitzAthelstan (Alaric and Gil’s son). When the story begins, dusk is falling and Brenna is making her way back to the castle when she spots a stranger gutting a fish by the side of the river. Powerful, muscular and utterly absorbed in his activity, he doesn’t notice Brenna carefully cataloging his belongings. When he turns and spots her, he stills before commenting on her bow. Brenna quickly demonstrates her prowess with the weapon before asking him what he’s doing in the woods. Suspecting he’s a poacher (although his weapons and horse give her pause), she orders him to proceed her back to the castle. They run into Robin at the gate; he asks for an introduction and it turns out he knows the mysterious stranger. Years ago, they faced off at a tournament and jousted a record twenty-three times, before judges declared Robin the winner.
Brenna is smart to be suspicious of Griffyn Renaud de Verdelay. Although he is on his way to Rouen for L’Emprise de la Gueule de Dragon (a tournament Robin also plans to attend) and claims he simply lost his way, he’s secretly plotting to kill Robin! (No, I’m not going to tell you why). He’s thrilled to find himself welcomed to stay at Amboise by his enemy and uses the time to spy on Robin (and the mysterious goings on related to Alaric’s late night arrival). He’s also a teensy, tiny bit distracted by the beautiful and deadly Brenna, who obviously doesn’t trust him. When not spying on Robin, he spends his time baiting her with smoldering looks and sexy wagers that Brenna - predictably - can’t say no to. Unfortunately for poor Brenna, Griffin is a TOTAL LETHAL BADASS. Fortunately for us, she keeps her promises. These two get into sexy shenanigans whenever they’re alone at Amboise, and when they both eventually wind up in Rouen for the tournament, they consummate their relationship.
Griffyn has secrets (I won’t be revealing them in this review) and connections to the villains of this story. I’m happy to tell you his character is fully redeemed by the conclusion of the series, and he’s become one of my new favorite ‘dark heroes.’ I loved this couple and their passion in bed and out of it. They argue and bicker and one-up each other, but can’t help falling in love. Trust is the biggest hurdle to their happiness, and they struggle with it more than most. Griffyn is surprised by the intensity of his feelings for Brenna, and wholly invested in her happiness; betraying his love for her - by killing Robin - ultimately proves impossible. That sets him at odds with his patron and the true villains of this story - Lord Bertrand Malagane - along with his sadistic lover Solange de Sancerre, and Guy de Gisborne, eager for revenge against Robin (who gelded him during the escape from Corfe). Griffyn’s refusal to kill Robin nearly gets him killed, but it also paves the way for the adventure plot to intersect with the romance. It’s all very tricky and clever and neatly plotted, and I enjoyed every bit of it.
The Last Arrow has surprises and betrayals and swordfights and hot sex and feats of bravery and derring do and kisses and midnight trysts and romance and… friends, it has it all! Ms. Canham slowly but steadily turns up the heat, and then brings it all to an exciting crescendo outside of Sherwood Forest. Three couples eventually find their own versions of happily ever after, and readers do, too. The Last Arrow is a satisfying conclusion to this marvelous spin on the Robin Hood legend and I enjoyed every bit of it.
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