An exciting book review.
Robert Louis Stevenson is well-known for Treasure Island (Perhaps. *cough*) and second to that, Kidnapped, but such treasures as St. Ives and The Black Arrow have collapsed in literature's dusty past. A great pity. So today, we're going to look at The Black Arrow, an entrancing tale set in England's Wars of the Roses.
Preface [original spelling preserved]:
"I had four blak arrows under my belt,
Four for the greefs that I have felt,
Four for the nomber of ill menne
That have opressid me now and then.
One is gone; one is wele sped;
Old Apulyaird is ded.
One is for Maister Bennet Hatch
That burned Grimstone, walls and thatch.
One for Sir Oliver Oates,
That cut Sir Harry Shelton's throat.
Sir Daniel, ye shull have the fourt;
We shall think it fair sport.
Ye shull each have your own part,
A blak arrow in each blak heart.
Get ye to your knees for to pray:
Ye are ded theeves, by yea and nay!
of the Green Wood,
And his jolly fellaweship.
On a certain afternoon, in the late springtime, the bell upon Tunstall Moat House was heard ringing at an unaccustomed hour.
After taking the poem back to Sir Daniel, Dick is eager to take part in the upcoming battle of Risingham, but Sir Daniel refuses, and sends him back with another message to his men quartered at Tunstall Moat House. Just before he leaves, a great search is sent up for a new ward of Sir Daniel's, whom Dick has never met, suddenly turned up missing. On his errand, Dick meets this strange ward, whom he at first takes to be a lad of twelve, and is surprised to learn that he has sixteen years to his credit. Like the thick-headed, but lovable hero that he is, Dick takes him at his word. According to this John Matcham, Sir Daniel stole him away from his rightful kin on the side of York. They go on swimmingly together, avoiding a large group of jolly outlaws that Dick discovers is responsible for the black arrows. Then riderless horses cross their paths, and they both know that the battle of Risngham has gone sore against Sir Daniel.
Matcham is well on his way back to his kin when Sir Daniel, a fugitive from the battle disguised as a leper, finds them both, and they all go on together to Tunstall Moat House. This is the place where Dick's father died so many years before. When Dick lets fall an inkling that he is still looking for his father's murderer, Sir Daniel orders several trusted men to be on the lookout to discover who he suspects. Dick sees no more of Matcham, but he does hear of the presence of one strange "Joanna", and when a young woman comes to his room one night to warn him of his impending death, he recognizes his puny friend from the greenwood.
Betrayed by his master, he and Matcham set out along a hidden passage to flee the moat house. Pursued by Sir Daniel's men, they have no choice but to jump into the moat and flee across. But Joanna cannot stand heights, and her stalling gives the men enough time to catch up to them. Knowing that they will harm him and not Joanna, Dick jumps the moat, catching an arrow in the shoulder just as he reaches the farther shore. After a long night spent at the foot of a tree, Dick loses his senses on the highroad of the Tunstall hamlet and is promptly taken by the men of The Black Arrow to their chief.
What befalls him, as well as the Lady Joanna, amidst the perils of the Wars of the Roses, I leave my readers to discover.
Stevenson's excellent characterization hardly merit his own evaluation of the book as "tushery". In the case of this book he rated it far too low. You will be enthralled by the adventure, the history, and the plot twists and turns. His conclusion, I think, will give you a good surprise. :) Don't peek.
Dick illustrates chivalrous manhood (in most cases), while gentle romance combined with bloody battles makes for a classic combination. Aside from a few laughable lapses in judgement, and a poor case of situational ethics, I consider him a laudable hero.
I don't recall any language, but would be on the lookout for it, as I've never read a Stevenson without it. (Note that I don't consider exclamations of a Roman Catholic nature to be problematic--"Holy Mary", etc.)
The Black Arrow is not for young children. Such incidents as murders, hangings, and battles, as well as the necessity to judge the moral rightness of certain character's actions, causes me to rate this teen and up.
Stevenson presents a fair look at a country in times of war. Men band together on a common side, though they do not always have common morals or common missions. Loyal men and treacherous, principled and unprincipled alike, create a cast of characters that you will wish to revisit time and time again.
While this concludes today's book review, I would like to announce an upcoming event on the blog:
I look forward to seeing you all here, and if you would like to copy this poster and link it back to this blog to help me spread the word, you are more than welcome to do so! :) Book reviews, movie reviews, and an exploration of the Michael Servetus controversy, all coming up later this month.
On Friday, I think we'll have another book review. It won't be Elsie Dinsmore, but I do have a poll in the top right corner to collect your opinions for a review on this disputed heroine. I have made it open for multiple votes, to allow several people to vote on the same device, but I would be obliged if you kept it to one per person. Thank-you! :)