Saplings of Sherwood

Reviewed by:

Connor Salter, Professional Writing alumnus from Taylor University, Upland, IN.


Saplings of Sherwood (The Telling of the Beads Book 1)


Avellina Balestri


Pearl of Tyburn Press

Publication Date:

December 16, 2022




290 pages


Before he became the Robin Hood of legend, Robin Locksley was a young son of Nottinghamshire’s last Saxon noble house. As he grows older, he finds that being Saxon in an England ruled by Normans is not as easy as he thinks. His neighbor Roger Cavendish is a little over a decade older and dislikes this young Saxon boy. His neighbor Marian Fitzwalter likes Robin… and their feelings become more complicated as they grow. As they age, the three characters slowly realize their parents are raising them for three different destinies. But will they become what their parents want them to be?

Any Robin Hood retelling comes with its share of challenges. Will this be a lighthearted fantasy, like Disney’s Robin Hood cartoon? Will it be a dark deconstruction, like the Russell Crowe film? Since this is the first book in the series and starts before the famous Robin Hood moments (the archery contest, meeting Friar Tuck, etc.), it doesn’t have to immediately excite readers with a bracing new take on the old material. However, it still has to give readers an idea of the tone of the series.

Balestri solves this problem by making Robin the main character but giving enough time to Roger and Marian to make them compelling secondary protagonists. Since each one sees a different side of English society, she can give readers a comprehensive view of the story world she’s building. Roger’s family illustrates Norman oppression at its worst. Marian’s family illustrates moderate Normans struggling to be kind though their society favors the brutal. Robin’s family illustrates Saxons trying to survive in a society that wants them exterminated.

The result is a story with dark moments—Roger’s family has a history of abusing the female serfs on their land—but even the darkest moments feel tragic instead of sleazy. Robin, Marian, and Roger are each compelling characters, so readers care about what happens in each of their stories. Even when things get dark, the darkness never becomes nihilism. The fact that Roger and Robin are both shown as young men who attend church and believe in God adds another interesting wrinkle to the story: they genuinely want to be God-fearing men, which means they have to figure out what standards will govern their lives as they grow up in this society.

Add all these elements together, and Saplings of Sherwood becomes a nuanced story. Clearly, being an honorable warrior in medieval England wasn’t as easy as it sounded in the Disney version. The novel faces the period’s misogyny and brutality without looking away. Honor is portrayed as something hard to find. At the same time, evil is clearly portrayed as evil, and living for honor is portrayed as something to seek. In short, Saplings of Sherwood succeeds where many modern fantasy and adventure stories fail: it tells a story that values honor while not shying away from how hard it is to live honorably.

While Balestri takes time to make her characters interesting, she doesn’t lose track of where the plot needs to go. As readers, we know this series will lead to Robin becoming the famous rebel who fights Normans abusing their power. Balestri provides hints of what Robin is growing into while making this novel more than just “the story before the famous adventures happen.”

In short, Balestri presents a Robin Hood novel that succeeds as historical fiction, coming-of-age story, and adventure tale. A great start to what looks to be a wonderful Robin Hood series.


Rating (1 to 5 stars):

5 stars

Suggested Audience:

Teenage or adult readers looking for an engaging Robin Hood story with character depth and a detailed setting.

Christian Impact:

In her introduction, Balestri discusses the complex religious influences on the Robin Hood legends. On the one hand, pre-Christian legends about a nature spirit called the Green Man clearly had some influence on the stories about this protector who wore Lincoln green and lived in the woods. On the other hand, the early stories talk about Robin as a man of faith—it’s no accident that his bride is named Marian, a variant of Mary. Balestri balances these elements by showing Robin as a devout young man who wants to honor the old pre-Christian stories that his Saxon ancestors have passed on but also be a good man who follows Christ. The conflict becomes deeper as Robin befriends locals who aren’t as impressed with the church, yet he strives to be the best Christian he can be. It’s a fascinating journey that retrieves a part of the Robin Hood legends that most readers won’t know about. At times, it resembles the Inklings’ interest in viewing pagan mythology as something to be careful with, yet with hints of virtue worth celebrating.


Balestri presents a few dark scenes that show how women were treated in this period—female serfs used as prostitutes, a local rescuing a woman before attackers violate her. These scenes are tense and not recommended for preteen readers. However, even the darkest scenes are portrayed as horrifying, never titillating. Balestri emphasizes the characters and how the abuse is horrible because it treats valuable human beings as objects.

Several sequences involve a married couple (including their attempts to have children), which are also handled with minimal sexual details, emphasizing how these actions impact the characters.

Saplings of Sherwood (The Telling of the Beads #1)


  1. An Interview with Author Avellina Balestri – G. Connor Salter - September 12, 2023

    […] Avellina Balestri, Editor-in-Chief for Fellowship & Fairydust, has released her first novel, a Robin Hood novel entitled The Telling of the Beads: Book I – Saplings of Sherwood: […]

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