This is what in less P.C. days would be called a boys’ book. It’s a tale of outlaws and adventures, bravery and chivalry, fair maidens and feats of strength. Set in the midst of The Wars of the Roses, Robert Louis Stevensons’s episodic novel follows young Dick Shelton, a ward of the lord of his manor who comes to be torn between his various loyalties in an uncertain time.
Shelton has been under the protection of Sir Daniel since the death of his own father when he was a lad. Sir Daniel is a politically calculating figure, switching allegiances freely between Lancaster and York depending on which way the wind is blowing. Shelton is one of his best soldiers until suspicions begin to form in his mind that Sir Daniel may have been responsible for his father’s death. At the same time, a group of vengeful archers called the Black Arrow, allied with no side in the larger conflict, conduct a campaign of vengeance against Sir Daniel and his allies.
Eventually Dick falls in love with a maiden promised to Sir Daniel, aligns himself with the Black Arrow, and find himself riding next to the futire King Richard III. His efforts to rescue the maiden, avenge his father’s death, and make a name for himself form the basic structure of the novel.
Though the artificial “period” dialogue can be pretty grating sometimes, and there are precious few scenes actually involving the mysterious Black Arrow, the novel is a thrilling read, full of incident and adventure.