|The real cover is a |
subtler shade of green....
It was a fun read. A G.A. Henty-meets-Howard Pyle sort of book, and just the perfect adventure novel for a little relaxation.
[From the back cover:] Martin, son of Sir Anselm of the Hollow, risks his life in more ways than one in this fast-paced story of Cornwall in the year 1200. King Richard is dead and John is King, a ruler ever ready for more money in his treasury whether it comes there honestly or not. When the Baron Eric mysteriously disappears, his young daughter Rosamund must bear the increasing burden of his absence. The moody Sir Basil, distant relation and heir, has taken over the castle--and would not be pleased if Eric should ever return. In an unguarded moment of genuine gratitude, Sir Basil invites young Martin to come to the castle as a page and squire. Martin is swiftly drawn into Rosamund's troubles and into a few of his own before the tale reaches its dramatic climax.
I found this book an interesting nut to crack from a moral perspective, in that I couldn't figure out if French was a Christian author or not. One dying character writes a song about giving his soul to God. At another point, I think a church building was referenced. But aside from two or three casual references, the characters never mention God, prayer, or any other indication of where the author's coming from spiritually. Certain authors choose not to make their Christianity explicit, and yet you still know it's there--Austen and many other authors chose a subtler approach to introducing their biblical worldview. While not every Christian book has to spell it out (though it's better when they do) I kept getting the gut feeling that French was a very moral author, but not necessarily a Christian one. The characters were very upstanding; very brave and kind and generous to the poor--but that was all, and beyond that, I don't know where French was coming from. For that reason I like Henty better than French, for he comes out and says what he means; but though rather incomplete in spiritual regards, French's book emulates worthy behavior for young people, so I think it would still be a positive influence.
The plotting is straightforward, but not fancy. You won't be harrowed to your soul by upcoming plot twists and possible disasters; it's one of those books where you can see what's coming and enjoy the ride. The book is packaged as a historical fiction novel set in the time of Prince John, though the prince isn't mentioned until the very end of the book, and the history is very light. I think the life of the people themselves probably contains the most history. Altogether The Lost Baron strikes me as a story which the author wrote purely for the pleasure of it, and I enjoyed that--it allows the reader to relax a little more while reading it.
I would say early teens would be a good age for this book, but for one element. And that's Sir Basil, who takes over for the baron. He's depressed, moody, tries to starve a prisoner, and walks on hot coals of regret and remorse for a wrong he's contemplating doing. Some may find that disturbing; some may not. So though for the most part it's entirely suitable for the age at which you could introduce a boy to G.A. Henty, there is a streak of emotional instability in Basil that may be a caution for certain readers.
The Lost Baron is illustrated by Andrew Wyeth, the son of N.C. Wyeth. It was fascinating to see his illustrations, and to read as well that the Wyeths were connected with the author Howard Pyle at one point. I thought Andrew carried on very well in his father's footsteps, and the illustrations, which were black pen and ink drawings, greatly enhanced the story.
Rosamund made a good and capable heroine; the only element that disturbed me was that she kept something hidden from her mother, because her mother wasn't the sort of person that would keep it a secret, and it needed to be kept secret. While I thought French didn't make her unduly rebellious or independent, it's a very weighty plotline to put in, and should never be included without a specific purpose and a specific resolution. It wasn't a deal-breaker, but French's lack of religious inclusion meant that he didn't resolve the plot as far as I would have liked to see. There is a bit of the younger generation (Martin and Rosamund) facing off against the older villains, so that's something to be aware of. They act in all honor and respect to those above them, but you'll need to look to other books for a more multigenerational flavor and characters who rely on older mentors. (Though Martin's father is involved as well, come to think of it, so they're not entirely on their own.)
Favorite character? Well, I suppose in the end I would pick Martin. He's straightforward--more the bread-and-butter variety of hero--and I enjoyed him. A young man who's learning how to be a leader in his sphere of influence, who seems to have a close relationship with his father, and who's generous to his enemies as well as chivalrous to the ladies. He's a good role model.
All in all, The Lost Baron is a good little book to curl up with of an afternoon. Adventure, secret passages, philanthropic heroes and heroines, the fight of classic evil against classic good--all the ingredients that combine to form a fun and worthwhile tale. And perhaps a relief to pick up on some occasion when you've been surfeited with emotionally wrenching legends and want something a little lighter to recover with.