The Phantom’s Curse by Shelley Wilson

2 / 5 stars
Read in June 2020

This is the second book I’ve read over the last couple months that could be classified as a “retelling”, but really isn’t much of a retelling at all. Other than some character name similarities, mainly Marianne and Robbie, and a few elements of the plot, including bow and arrows as a primary weapon or the forest as an important setting, this book bears no resemblance to the tale of Robin Hood. Which begs the question – what constitutes a retelling?

For me, a great retelling follows the same story and themes as the original tale, even if loosely, and ideally includes some unique twists on the plot, setting, and characters. I would argue that simply using the characters’ names weakens the story since readers will be looking for similarities to the original and likely end up disappointed.

If I’m missing some lesser-known version of Robin Hood to which this book can be tied, please let me know! For an example of what a good retelling looks like to me, please click here.

Retelling aside, unfortunately this book reads more like an early draft of a novel rather than a finished version. Many sections seem rushed and could have easily been expanded, as a lot happens and there are a lot of characters to keep track of in this 200-page story. Not only does Marianne “Maz” need rescue her little brother, but she also has to worry about her village being raided by the cruel Black Riders, as well as determine whether the king is hiding a legendary evil sorcerer “in the bowels of the castle” who hopes to bring back the Phantom’s Curse. Plus, there are a couple other plot twists thrown in near the end that complicate things further.

Speaking of the curse, the story also would benefit from a deepening of the world, especially the magic system. The evil curse is the focus of the prologue, however it’s overshadowed by Maz’s visit to the castle, scuffles with the Black Riders, and scheming with Robbie and Theo. I honestly almost forgot about the curse until the latter part of the book, when Maz must join with her friends and the people of Obanac to defeat it. Maz’s untapped powers are hinted at throughout the story, but they are never really explored until the end, and even then I was left with questions.

On a positive note, I really did like Maz as a character. Shelley Wilson creates a complex heroine in this sharpshooting, determined, vulnerable, clever, and kind healer who only wants to keep her brother and the people of her village safe. I loved her bond with Newt and her friendship with Theo, and would have enjoyed seeing her relationships with other side characters developed more, including Xander, Fergus, and even Halia.

Lastly, I truly felt the romantic chemistry between Maz and Robbie; however, the length of the book unfortunately affected this as well. If the story was longer, Maz and Robbie could have had more page time together so we could watch their relationship grow and see those sparks fly.

So, what makes a great retelling for you? I’d love to know, and please be sure to leave links to any retellings you’ve enjoyed!

Thank you to BHC Press via Netgalley for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review. All opinions expressed are my own.

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