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At the tender age of 17, Lady Marian Fitzwater of Denby-upon-Trent finds herself in the compromised position of being a widow while still a virgin. Hugh of Sencaster, her legal husband since the age of five, has died suddenly, under mysterious circumstances. Yet before she has time to mourn the passing of this childhood friend, Marian finds herself at the heart of a swiftly evolving political plot. For as an orphan, a widow, and a landed heiress, Marian is considered a ward of King Richard’s. Not only is she is poised to bring vast wealth to whichever man she marries, but her betrothed will in turn owe his allegiance to the king for her hand. Determined to cement Richard’s claim to the throne while he is away crusading, his mother, the powerful Queen Eleanor of Aquitaine, sees in Marian an easy bargaining chip. A new engagement is quickly arranged for Marian—to her dead husband’s brother.

But Marian refuses to be played as a pawn in the game of wealth and politics. Desperate for help dodging her unsavory fate, she turns to the legendary outlaw Robin Hood, a notorious champion of the underdog and master to the best spies in England. Deep in his woodland lair, Marian discovers a new way of life far removed from the cloying protocol of the upper crust. As she tastes independence and hard work for the first time, Marian’s eyes are opened to Robin Hood’s irresistible charms, and the unlikely pair find a passionate devotion growing between them.

Marian’s troubles are far from over, however. She is determined to reclaim the estate that is hers by birthright and expose the treachery surrounding her husband’s death before she embarks on a new life. And there are inner demons she must face alone before she is free to join forces with her beloved and inspiring companion, Robin Hood.

In succulent prose, author Elsa Watson weaves together political intrigue, social commentary, and forbidden romance in this freshly imagined take on the Robin Hood legend. Through the eyes of one unforgettable woman, she arrives at a stunning portrait of twelfth-century England. This guide is designed to direct your reading group’s discussion of Elsa Watson’s stunning Maid Marian.

Questions and Topics for Discussion

1. Young Marian learns of her parents’ death in an abrupt and heartbreaking way. How does this shattering disappointment affect the way she interacts with adults thereafter? What survival techniques does she employ to protect herself from hurt? How do these play out later in the novel, as she grapples with her feelings for Robin?

2. What sparks Marian’s fascination with “the myriad loops and twists” of social hierarchies, and the behavior of the nobility versus the commoners? How does her study of this topic prepare her for what she experiences in Sherwood Forest, in the Saxon village of Wodesley, and in her temporary home at Thetbury? What aspects of peasant life surprise her and why?

3. From her very first attempt to cut loose from her regent, Sir Thomas, Marian wrestles with the notion of self-determination. Nearly all of her decisions in the novel stem from her powerful desire for control over her own situation. How does falling in love with Robin gel with this issue? By the end of the novel, has she mastered control of her own destiny at last, or relinquished it? Whichever answer you choose, does it bother you?

4. Sidekicks can play a variety of useful roles opposite a protagonist—for example: foil, leavening agent, comfort, irritant, challenge, shadow, or teacher. What kind of sidekick is Annie to Marian? What kind is Little John to Robin?

5. Is it fair to call Marian an opportunist?

6. Marian’s assumptions about leadership and group dynamics are turned upside down by her observation of Robin’s band of men. “Watching Lord William interact with his underbarons, knights, and nobles, I was stuck by the arrogance of their manners, the contempt with which they seemed to address their own overlord. This was not the way of the Sherwood yeomanry. Nay, those men trusted Robin Hood to be their better and gave him their loyalty because he proved himself so. Lord William had proven nothing beyond how well he was loved by the present king… Lord William’s place was tenuously held; Robin Hood’s was held through love and earned respect.” Do these observations change anything about the way Marian conducts herself?

7. At what point does Marian begin to feel trapped by her relationship with Robin? Is it her love for him, or his love for her, that feels claustrophobic to her? Why? When she flees the camp, she is convinced of his duplicity—is this fair? What would she have done differently in Robin’s place? What does she claim she would have done?

8. Do you think this novel glamorizes poverty? Is it possible to analyze the psychological and societal ensnarement of wealth without doing so?

9. Marian prides herself on valuing decisiveness and “the well-laid scheme” above all else. Where in the novel does she live up to this trait? Where does she fail? In the end, do she and Robin Hood succeed thanks to a well-laid scheme, or to spontaneity and the ability to improvise?

10. How does Marian begin to piece together Hugh’s murder? Why does she spend so much time and energy avenging Hugh and protecting Stephen from a similar fate at the hands of Lady Pernelle, when Robin has already procured the queen’s approval of their marriage? Why doesn’t she take her suspicions about Lady Pernelle to the queen?

11. As they head into the final phase of their plot, Marian is overjoyed because “if all went well we could end this folly by becoming, at last, respectable souls.” What does she mean by “respectable souls”? Does she mean something different for Robin than for herself?

12. In her disguise as Kate Thatcher, how does Marian make herself indispensable to Lady Pernelle? Where is this skill coming from? How does she ingratiate herself to Stephen? What makes her so sure that once enlightened of her identity, Stephen will respect her rightful claim to Denby?

13. What is the couple’s first political move as lord and lady of the manor? Do you buy Robin’s ready acceptance of lordship after his lifelong career as an outlaw?

About this Author

ELSA WATSON lives on Bainbridge Island, Washington. Maid Marian is her first novel.

From the Hardcover edition.
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