I recently finished reading a book called The Black Arrow: A Tale of Two Roses. It is by Robert Louis Stevenson (of Treasure Island and Kidnapped fame), but it was originally published as a serial under the false name of Captain George North. Why he decided to publish under a false name I have no idea. By the way, why does anyone publish under a false name? That’s so weird!! If I used a fake name, I would use Paddy O’McSeamus. Anyway, the book is pretty good. I would recommend it for anyone who likes historical literature and doesn’t mind a challenging read. It was marketed as a children’s book, and though some children are certainly capable of getting through it, I would more readily suggest it as a work for high-school-aged kids or older.
Having said that, I have three specific impressions of the book:
- The language is incredibly dense. Stevenson called it tushery – I call it nigh impenetrable. The plot takes place during the War of the Roses in the late 15th Century England, so Stevenson took it upon himself to write using the lingo of that era. That means the book is full of “thou” “thy” “rood” and other archaic English words. Which is cool if you like words (I do). But – since pretty much no one talks or writes like people in the 1400’s, it is very tough to figure out what’s going on much of the time. I often found myself slogging through the text, not entirely clear as to what just happened or what was currently happening. That’s a disconcerting way to read a book, slogging through, but with the rampant tushery, it is nearly unavoidable. Ay, wouldst thou sojourn amidst The Black Arrow ere thou uncover thyself, by the mass, a beleaguered champion of sententious words and by the rood! a man such as can call thyself learned forthwith? If so, you should read it.
- The book is somewhat disjointed. Specifically, this book is disjointed between Books II and III. Actually, this book is disjointed pretty much only between Books II and III. Whatever – that is enough to warrant this paragraph. Since The Black Arrow was published as a serial, it makes sense that Captain George North would take breaks between sections. And during those breaks, it makes sense that he might work on another project and, upon return, find himself in a different place creatively. And since he would be in a different place creatively, it makes sense that separate sections would feel uneven. The best analogy I can think of is this – if you lay a tile floor on Monday and then come back on Saturday and lay more tile directly next to the existing tile, the grout will not match. Even though you would use the same type of grout and the same combination of ingredients in the grout, the two substances won’t look identical because they were not laid from the exact same batch. In the same way, it seems as though Stevenson was drawing grout from different batches for Books II and III, and though they are similar in tone, language and characters, they just are not identical.
- The characters are quite over-the-top. Not that that is a bad thing. It just struck me as unusual since many characters in modern literature seem to often be painted with more subtle brushstrokes. But the emotions, decisions, actions, and motives of the folks in The Black Arrow are far from subtle. Dick and Joanna fall madly in love rather suddenly, and alliances are thrown off with scarcely a thought. It is far-fetched, akin to a fairy tale. This doesn’t ruin the book, but it did make me proverbially roll my eyes when characters would make super dumb decisions for super dumb reasons.
In the end, I would still recommend this book for anyone who enjoys historical fiction and doesn’t mind a challenging read. Though it has some quirks, it is a worthwhile endeavor. Forsooth!!!
Also: Check out Grant’s recent review of The Lego Movie!
Grant Stevens is a writer who is now writing about other writers. He is the Sultan of the Use Ironic Correctly Society, and he plays music. He is currently waiting for his Nobel and Pulitzer Prizes, and while waiting, he enjoys watching movies, reviewing movies, reading, playing sports and studying apologetics.