Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Black Arrow

I just finished Robert Louis Stephenson's The Black Arrow today, during my lunch break. Fun stuff. One of the early historical romance adventure novels, Arrow reminds me strongly of Sir Walter Scott's Ivanhoe, which I haven't read in a good twenty years.

I don't know that I'd need to read Arrow frequently, but it's fun to have read once. Stephenson spent a lot of energy on recreating the language and dialogue of his era which was simultaneously kinda fun to read and kind frustrating and dense. As an early example of swashbuckling action, it's not very evolved. Later writers wrote much more gripping action sequences that Stephenson manages. And the characters are charming although often frustrating due to the spontaneous odd choices. Probably meant to be an example of the mindset of the times, it's still difficult to wrap my head around sometimes. The characters were a bit wooden, however, and could have used some more filling out to really jump off the page and come to life. Everything was a little too romantic adventure, and then near the end when Dick Shelton was supposed to be confronted with the hard reality of his reckless decisions, it seems too forced. And, of course, his reaction to that feeling is even more reckless and foolhardy proclamations. For which a few characters quite rightly start calling him a soft-hearted and soft-headed fool.

As an aside, the old Disney live-action Black Arrow, with Oliver Reed as Sir Daniel Brackley (the main villain of the piece) and Donald Pleasance as his main (treacherous) advisor is a fun movie, but bears relatively scant resemblance to the plot of the book. Next up is Vicki Petterssen's (sic?) Scent of Shadows, of which I've read a chapter or two already. I'm not sure it's going to live up to my hopes of being a demonic-themed Buffy meets Harry Dresden, because there was a somewhat... Twilightish vibe in those early chapters, if that makes sense. A kind of feminine wallowing in emotional helplessness that I find unattractive in novel characters and which I only find in certain works that are very specifically targetted towards a female audience. It's only one book; I don't have to continue the series if I don't like it, and I shouldn't judge the entire thing based on the first thirty or so pages, but we'll see. I'll dutifully report my findings here when I'm done, of course.

After that, I might want something lighter and breezier, so I'm thinking of picking up some of my old Sword & Planet quickie novels, like the Leigh Brackett Skaith books or the F. Gardner Fox Llarn books. And then I'll jump into dense, long, fantasy novels again: The Lies of Locke Lamora and Deadhouse Gates. Not necessarily in that order.

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