Finally!! After weeks and weeks of reading this book I am finally done! The Black Arrow simply has to be the dullest book I have ever read! Masquerading as a swashbuckling novel of merely a couple of hundred pages, I found it to be slow in language, contrived in style, pathetic in characterisation, and sloppy of plot. If you're wondering why I plodded my way through this then...well...I can only say that once having started it I figured I simply had to finish it.
The story is set during the period of the wars between the two disctinct branches (also known as the red and white roses) of the Plantagenet line. Its protaganist is a young man by the name of Richard Shelton who will stop at nothing to save the woman he is in love with. He enlists the help of the league of the Black Arrow - a bunch of outlaws and outcasts - and gets involved in the war that rages around him.
The brief summary doesn't sound to bad, does it? Except that Richard Shelton is an extremely weak character who inspires absolutely nothing in the reader...at least, he invoked no positive response from me! He was a dithering lad with plenty of bravado but no wisdom or commonsense. And while this does not necessarly make a protaganist unworthy (in fact it does not if the characterization is done well) Richard was plainly a fool. One must give him credit for seeing it himself at the end of the novel, but I did wonder what it was that Joanna (the heroine) found in him!
The characterization was so dreadfully shallow. There wasn't a single character that was rounded. They were all as flat and dry as cardboard. And it seemed to me that the only reason young Dicky survives right up till the end of the novel is because he had the good fortune of being the author's main guy. I suspect that this could never have passed as a real-life story! Every single person I came across in the novel seemed to be naive in some way or the other. In fact, I feel, this entire plot works out on the naivity and foolishness of everybody involved.
But what really got my goat was the character of Joanna's best friend, Alicia Risingham. Her role, seemed to be, much like the role of the jesters and fools in Shakepeare's plays. Outwardly light-hearted and full of fun, it is she who disects Richard's character bit by bit - but she herself is as uninteresting as the above mentioned cardboard. This would perhaps be because of how she was grieving for her dead uncle one day and the very next had completely forgotten her own grief as her friend gets married. No. She forgets on the same day she realises, actually. As for the men of the Black Arrow, at the beginning one thinks they are going to play a major part in the plot, but they are pushed deep into the woods whence they came from and reappear piece-meal, at the end.
This last is a pity, especially as they sound as interesting as Robin Hood and his merry men. If anything, I suspected that they were perhaps the same...or they were used as a model by Stevenson.
The language, as I have mentioned before, was very contrived. More so when there was dialogue as Stevenson tries to imitate a language and style he could only have read from books of that era. While this particular form would not seem odd, for instance, in Chaucer's works, it was very, very odd and detracted from the story in this book. I suppose as the first is based in a contemporary world, and therefore well known, the language cannot be contrived, while in the latter case it just wasn't the same through lack of living it. Stevenson's descriptions were good, but the dialogue simply gave me a headache (perhaps this explains the headaches I've been having these past three days??).
And speaking of descriptions, there is this one phrase that has stayed with me:
"So they ran on, holding each other by both hands, exchanging smiles and lovely looks, and melting minutes into seconds..."
The Black Arrow is thus sprinkled with few pretty phrases like that, and I will admit to being reminded of the swashbuckling movies of old. It is a very fast-paced story, albeit it ends in a dreadful hurry in the end.
No. It definitely made a bare impression.