Title: The Black Arrow
Author: Robert Louis Stevenson. Narrated by Ron Keith.
Publisher: Originally published 1883 as a serial. Audio book, Prince Frederick, MD, Recorded Book, 2003.
Source: One-click library
Set in the 1450s, during the War of the Roses (York vs. Lancaster, for those who remember enough English history for any of it to matter), this is the tale of young Richard Shelton, who finds himself caught between the two factions. He has to sort his way through battles, shipwrecks, the uncertainties of friend and enemy, revenge and murder, to win his peace and his sweetheart.
This is truly a tale worthy of the great masters of sword-wielding fantasy, even if set in a real historical time and place. Dick Shelton fights his way through every time, is wounded and fights on, escapes and is captured, has to learn the hard way the consequences of wandering to the wrong side of the law, and all the while is madly in love. Older than most modern middle-grade heroes (he is perhaps 17 or 18 when the story starts), he is nonetheless a perfect juvenile hero, and the story is a perfect romantic (in the sense of knights-in-shining-armor romance, not love and kisses romance, though there is a very mild love story) tale for youngsters.
The somewhat dated language might be a bit of a stumbling block for some kids, but most should pick it up quickly, and will enjoy the sense of otherness it creates. Ron Keith reads it well, making it easier for readers of all levels to follow the story. He reads Stevenson's overwrought "medieval" language with a straight face, which actually works very well. After listening for an hour or so, I felt like throwing a few "mayhaps" and "perchances" into my own speech.
I would recommend this for fairly advanced middle-grade readers, and for adults who are fond of medieval-style fantasy adventures (even though this is a historical novel, it feels a lot like some of those fantasies, without the magic).
Full Disclosure: I checked The Black Arrow out of my digital library, and received nothing from the writer, publisher or audio-book producer in exchange for my honest review. The opinions expressed are my own and those of no one else. I am disclosing this in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission's 16 CFR, Part 255: "Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising."