Travelers Along the Way by Aminah Mae Safi is exactly the kind of retelling I adore. It reworks the well-known story of Robin Hood, that legendary outlaw active in Sherwood Forest outside of Nottingham during the last decade of the twelfth century, stealing from the rich to support the poor while Richard Lionheart, the King of England at the time, was off on Crusade in the Holy Land. In the traditional story, the main antagonists are John, Richard’s younger brother, who rules England in his stead, and the Sheriff of Nottingham, who is Robin’s immediate nemesis. The story centres around the unfair treatment of peasants by the gentry, the cost of war – not just in terms of men, but also taxes – and the futility of trying to stand up against the powers that be in a society that thrives off status. It is also the original heist story, featuring a motley crew of outcasts banding together to fight against the status quo, trying to pull off the impossible. And as such, it has been one of the most popular tales to survive through the ages.
Travelers Along The Way is probably the best take on the source material I have read. It takes all of the important themes of the original story and reworks them into a unique and modern novel, set in the same period, but transported to the Holy Land. Safi has her Green Hood–the Robin Hood equivalent–be a young girl, visually perceived as a man due to her height when disguised by the green hooded cloak, a muslim caught up in the events of the Third Crusade. Similar to the original story of Robin Hood, the protagonists of this story did not set out to be heroes–or thieves for that matter–but ended up sliding into it trying to survive, trying to make the best of the situation that they found themselves in, trying to help the people they encounter on their way. And thus, their band of misfits grows, and with it their reputation (or infamy, depending on who you ask).
While the original story focuses on society being unhappy with John’s overlordship of England in his brother’s stead, Travelers Along the Way has Isabella–a foreign queen desperate to hang on to power in the Holy Land through any manner necessary. We do see part of the story told through her eyes, but while the reader becomes sympathetic to her plight, she never becomes a likeable character. The reader also encounters more well-known historical characters such as Richard Lionheart or Saladin, though it is not exactly a historical novel.
It is wonderful to see this traditional story transported to this more diverse setting. As part of the band of the Green Hood, we see members of the major religions working together and crossing those boundaries that were ostensibly at the centre of the conflicts. There is a sweet sapphic relationship and the story is full of fantastic characters in general, none of which fall flat. I should mention that this is part of Feiwel and Friends’ Remixed Classics series, where different authors of colour each take a classic story and rework it–all of the ones I’ve had the chance to read so far have been great!