Monday, June 3, 2013

Book Review: The Black Arrow, by Robert Louis Stevenson (1888)

The Black Arrow was a harrowing tale of a young adventurer, trying to find his true love.  It's set against the backdrop of the War of the Roses.  You don't have to know anything about the history of the period, the author feeds you any details necessary.  For the most part it's not a bad tale, just a bit long winded.  That may not make a lot of sense because it's a small book - only about 80,000 words, 220ish pages.  But it felt like it just went on and on.

The problem is the language.  Robert Louis Stevenson had them speak in the vernacular of the times, the 1400s.  It's not easy reading.  In fact, I stopped reading it and was going to give up.  I finally switched to an audiobook.  Unless you enjoy that style, an audiobook is the way to go for this story.  When someone's reading it to you, even when you don't understand a lot of their jibe, you get the basics of what they are saying.  Here's an example.
”’Tis a man that walketh you right speedily.  ’Tis a man in some fear of his life, or about some hurried business.  See ye not how swift the beating draweth near?”
You can probably figure out what he's saying, but it's frustrating enough to slow you down.  Plus, it didn't help that the 3rd person narrator switched from calling the main character Dick, to Richard, to Young Shelton over and over again.  That's something characters in a book often do, but the narrator is supposed to be removed from the story and should stick with a single reference.

But is it a great adventure?  Is it worthy of Manly Months here at The Literary Rambler?  Yes.  There's plenty of action, great battle scenes, riding fast, shooting arrows, sword fights, rescuing a damsel from the enemy's clutches and having to fight for her, stealthy assassination attempts and secret tunnels.  Sure, it's got it all.

But I'll be honest about this, by the end of the book I hardly understood what was going on anymore.  The language was so wordy and clunky I just wanted it to end.  One of the main characters was killed and I think I missed the details but I had no interest in going back to reread it.  I just went with the flow, waiting to see those words "the end".

People who enjoy Renaissance festivals and dressing up in medieval clothes, pretending to sword fight, this book might be for you.  And I certainly don't mean that in any bad way.  The book has a great story, a great adventure, and good characters.  The plot unfolds nicely and is well paced.  Unfortunately it's meant for a specific audience who really gets into that style of language.

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