Kidnapped by Robert Louis Stevenson (1886) 221 p.

Kidnapped is the third-most famous of Robert Louis Stevenson’s novels, overshadowed by Treasure Island and Dr Jekyll & Mr Hyde, but it’s the first of his that I’ve read. If it’s anything to go by, I should definitely check out his other works.

The novel begins in 1751 with David Balfour, our young and resourceful Scottish protagonist, setting out to the house of the Shaws upon the death of his parents. Here he meets his uncle Ebeneezer, a wheedling little man who, rather than welcoming him with open arms, attempts to murder him to seize the family fortune. When this fails he sells David into slavery aboard a ship bound for the Carolinas.

What follows is a swashbuckling adventure of the highest order, containing shipwrecks, gunfights, sword duels, murder, pursuit by the British Army, outlaw hideouts and all manner of boy’s adventure tropes. Yet it’s a far more serious and polished novel than I make it sound, set against a well-developed political and historical backdrop and featuring several real-life figures – most notably David’s friend and mentor Alan Breck, a Scottish Jacobite. I don’t quite know what that is! Nonetheless, it grants Kidnapped a solid sense of time and place, which drags a little during David’s endless flight across the heather but which, on the whole, contributes into making it a more refined novel than the sort of typical adventure tale that any halfway decent writer can churn out (and which, indeed, I have been churning out for many years).

It’s also, despite being written in the nineteenth century, a remarkably easy book to read. Writers back then often had higher standards of vocabulary and style, which means contemporary readers often have trouble reading them, but Kidnapped could easily have been penned in the mid-twentieth century. This is probably the oldest book I’ve read that I found both enjoyable and worth my time. (Moby-Dick, written in 1851, was certainly worth my time, but “enjoyable” is not the first word it brings to mind.)

Overall Kidnapped is a pretty fun read, and I’ll check out Treasure Island when I get the chance.

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