Wednesday, April 28, 2021

Review of Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson

One of the devices in China Mieville's Iron Council is the “neverending train”. Rails placed just in front of the train as it moves across the landscape, the concept feels both dangerous (what if they workmen place a rail wrong?) and yet free (the train is not subject to an existing rail system; it can go anywhere). I feel the same about Robert Louis Stevenson's prose—his 1886 novel Kidnapped an excellent example.

Consistently and forever able to pull the right word out of the bag, sentence by sentence, paragraph by paragraph, Kidnapped makes for an exciting adventure. His mother dead long ago and his father recently deceased, we meet 17-year old David Balfour as he is heading to his uncle's house to learn of his inheritance—his father having kept the knowledge secret from him. The journey discomforting, meeting people on the road he comes to expect something bizarre when meeting his uncle. And indeed he encounters a strange man in a decrepit house. But the uncle has even more devious plans than David might think. Visiting a sailing ship the next day on business, David soon finds himself in unexpected quarters and with an unexpected new direction in life.

Kidnapped can only be classified classic adventure. 'Classic' not only because of the book's age, but because of the type of tale told. Getting involved with brigands, pirates, soldiers, and mutineers, it's tough for David's to know who is friend and who is foe as he finds his way back to his uncle's house to discover the truth of his inheritance. A short novel, events and circumstances progress quickly through to the satisfying conclusion.

And Kidnapped still holds up well today. Slap the label 'historical adventure' on the cover, put another author's name beside it, and I'd be curious as to its success—especially given the revival of golden age-styled fiction on the market today. This is all not to mention Stevenson would also be a good lesson for writers today. Not a word too many, the narrative and dialogue are on precise point every page of the way—like the railways of Iron Council. It's only for an extreme minority of books these days that this can be said.

I understand Kidnapped will not be for every reader. But for those looking for a dip into the classics but are worried about impenetrable, baroque diction, fear not. Stevenson is extremely readable. Dynamic and colorful, there is a sense of danger and adventure. The fact he tells the tight tale of one young man's search for justice only peppers the pot.

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