I occasionally collect children’s books, mostly those with good illustrations, and a few months ago I started thinking about the books that used to be readily available, all adventure stories by various authors but illustrated by N. C. Wyeth. I decided to look for some of those, and the ones I bought were both by Robert Louis Stevenson, Kidnapped (my personal favorite) and one I’d never read, The Black Arrow.
Young Dick Shelton has lived under the wardship of Sir Daniel Brackley for most of his life and is loyal to him even though he seems to switch sides in the Wars of the Roses rather frequently. But mysterious attacks against his men by a group calling themselves the Black Arrow begin to awaken Dick to feelings of just resentment against Sir Daniel. For he has used the war and his position to cheat people out of their property.
Dick is on his way from Sir Daniel’s encampment when he encounters a boy named Jack Matcham whom he met in the camp. The boy (who everyone but Dick can see is really a girl) asks Dick for his help to get to Holywood. Dick helps Jack, but they fall back into Sir Daniel’s hands. Once there, Dick begins asking about the death of his father, for he has heard rumors that Sir Daniel was responsible.
This is an entertaining adventure story, and I’m not sure why it isn’t as highly regarded as Treasure Island (which has never been one of my favorites). The only thing I can think of to make it not as popular is the archaic speech Stevenson uses, which, while probably not that authentic, did not strike me as inauthentic, if that makes any sense. The novel features plenty of action, some appealing characters and some villains, and Richard of Gloucester (eventually to become Richard III) even makes an appearance as a young man.