Catriona

6.07.2010

WARNING:  Contains Kidnapped spoilers!!!


Catriona
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edition: Polygon, paperback
My overall rating:  4 out of 5 stars

The last chapter of Kidnapped was very nearly a complete, happy ending: Alan Breck was soon to escape to freedom in France, and David Balfour outwitted his selfish uncle and finally came into his inheritance.  David's story is far from finished, however; with the Appin Murder trial impending, he feels it his duty to speak on James Stewart's behalf, and it's not an easy mission, especially when he can't even be sure that the most powerful man who could help him--the Lord Advocate--is trustworthy.  David's own position, as a witness of the murder, is also precarious.  Still only a teenager and overwhelmed by all of this, he strives to work his way through a scheming world, become a gentleman, and win the love of beautiful grey-eyed Catriona Drummond.

My thoughts:  Stevenson considered this book to be one of his best, if not his best.  I humbly disagree, but I did think it a very good book, and a must-read for anyone who loves Kidnapped.

In the first part of the story, we have David trying hard to be shrewd and grown-up, while at the same time torn between self-interest and working to free an accused (but innocent) man from execution.  I think David is more likeable in this book, because, in many ways, the troubles David encounters in Catriona are much worse than those in Kidnapped, and the ways he faces them are (usually) very admirable, especially since he has no one else to look up to for help.  I really liked this first half of the book--there was plenty of danger, adventure, and some suspense; and Stevenson's elegant but vivid writing is an excellent example and standard for authors today.  I was skeptical about this book, but it turned out to be worthwhile and highly interesting; the scheming characters were very irritating, the Scottish dialogue wonderful as always, and I think my new favourite character was Charles Stewart (coincidentally, Alan Breck's cousin).

Alan Breck fans, prepare to be disappointed.  There was very little of him in this book.  I expected that, but it really is too bad.  In addition, when he is in the book, his character seems to be written only half-heartedly, and he doesn't seem like quite the same Alan that one remembers from Kidnapped.

Now for the reason I gave it just 4 stars: part 2 of the book is less than wonderful.  It's like a romance story from a guy's point of view.  Of course, I like old-fashioned romance stories, and I like the idea of one being written by a guy from a guy's perspective, but at times it was just too agitated and dramatic for me.  Catriona was likeable enough at first, but both she and David got really annoying.  It was kind of disappointing, particularly because it had the potential to be poignant and unique.  As it was, it turned out to be rather cliche.

The ending is pretty good.  Complete?  Well, sort of.  Actually, I could see many sequels and/or prequels to Kidnapped & Catriona.  Why not a whole saga?  But first, one would have to acquire Stevenson's confident historical tone, or at least his brilliant Scottish writing style.  And that would be very, very difficult.  ;)

Kidnapped

6.01.2010

Kidnapped
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edition:  Polygon, paperback.  HIGHLY recommended--very durable, elegant, and readable.  I think it will last much longer than most paperback books.
My overall rating:  5 out of 5 stars

Scotland, 1751. Sixteen-year-old David Balfour sets out to claim his inheritance from Ebenezer Balfour, a reclusive miser who lives in a dark mansion called "the House of Shaws". Through others' deceit and his own naivete, David gets kidnapped and soon finds himself landing in one misfortune after another, drawn away from his home in the familiar Lowlands country, and deeper into the Highlands, a place oppressed by English rule. He meets Alan Breck Stewart--a Highlander, rebel, and hunted man; and, after David himself unknowingly becomes an outlaw, David starts to view his country in a different light.  He also comes to understand that life is complex, and that you can't judge people by what they appear to be.

My thoughts: This is a brilliant book!  It might not be as accessible as Treasure Island, but Kidnapped is arguably a better book, and excellent historical fiction. You don't really need any prior knowledge of Scottish history to read this; and though it's not 100% accurate, it's nevertheless a good introduction to the Scotland of this era. The story itself is pretty fast-paced and starts out splendidly, with the eerie House of Shaws, a sinister sea captain, and more that I would tell, except I don't want to give away spoilers.  ;)

The characters are very good.  David Balfour is a hero in the true sense of the word: loyal, principled, and striving to do the right thing, with just enough inexperience and typical teenager attitude to make him a realistic character, and to allow for character development. Alan, by contrast, is cleverer and more cautious, and an expert swordsman who can take on several opponents at a time. On the other hand, he has a big ego, is far less scrupulous than David, and never really changes his ways. Still, Alan is kind of a complex character, and surprisingly, he turned out to be my favourite character in the book. He has a kind of honesty about him, which, though far from amounting to humility, makes him more likeable. And you can't help admiring his perseverance and loyalty as a friend. I would recommend this book just because of his character, if for nothing else.

Finally, even though Kidnapped (like Treasure Island) might be considered as a boy's book, I think it is a great read for just about anyone who loves a good, old-fashioned adventure story, or is interested in 18th-century history.