It would be difficult to find a better writer of adventure stories than Robert Louis Stevenson, but maybe not for the reasons many readers expect. It's not because of the fight scenes and chases he writes so well, nor the romances he writes with such real feeling and so little maudlin sentimentality, nor even his fast-paced plots that leave us craving more.
All those things highly recommend Stevenson as a writer, but the two things that make him such a good adventure story writer are his grasp of historical settings, and his ability to write dialogue that sounds like dialogue his characters ought to speak. In The Black Arrow, these elements and all the rest mentioned above come together perfectly.
In the midst of the Wars of the Roses in 15th century England, young Richard (Dick) Shelton wants nothing so much as to become a knight and discover the truth about his father's death. By the end he realizes both ambitions, falls in love with the beautiful but tough Joanna Sedley, joins forces with the outlaw band led by Ellis Duckworth, and fights with fists, daggers, axes, and swords.
Like most Stevenson novels, The Black Arrow is filled with intrigue and action. But it's also filled with detail about late Medieval English culture, religion, rules of warfare, and history. It's not a textbook, of course, and it's never boring, but most readers will come away with a somewhat more well-rounded understanding of these things, as well as the nature of honor and loyalty.
You won't hear the most authentic dialogue. But you will hear some of the most convincing dialogue, and that's Stevenson's peculiar genius. Most people nowadays wouldn't have any idea what Dick, Joanna, Ellis or any of the other characters were saying if they used the dialect and idiom of 15th century England, but Stevenson makes us feel like we're reading the real thing, retaining a certain foreign flavor while making every conversation entirely readable.
At the end of the day, though, there's nothing wrong with reading The Black Arrow simply because it's exciting. And it is exciting, about as exciting as a novel can get. Dick Shelton is always in the midst of battle, or unraveling a mystery, or falling deeply in love, and he drags the reader right along with him. Highly recommended!
Review by C. Hollis Crossman
C. Hollis Crossman used to be a child. Now he is a husband and father, teaches adult Sunday school in his Presbyterian congregation, and likes weird stuff. He might be a mythical creature, but he's definitely not a centaur. Read more of his reviews here.
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