Friday, December 2, 2016

The Accidental Highwayman (Ben Tripp)

The Accidental Highwayman
(The Kit Bristol series, Book 1)
Ben Tripp
Fiction, YA Fantasy
**+ (Bad/Okay)

DESCRIPTION: Orphan Kit Bristol thought his prospects were looking up when he was bought from a circus by Master Rattle, to serve as house boy and errand runner for the nobleman. Little did he suspect, until he found his master dying of a musket wound on the kitchen floor, that Rattle was really Whistling Jack, notorious highwayman of the English countryside. He thought he was doing Rattle a favor by dressing in the highwayman's costume and riding Midnight, his horse, to throw pursuers off the trail. By donning the mask and boots, Kit has not only made himself a target of a ruthless colonel, but has taken up obligations he knows little of, obligations tied to the fairies of England and the schemes of their mad king. Now the fate of a halfblood princess, a former circus colleague, and England's fairies and humans alike rest on this accidental highwayman's young shoulders.

REVIEW: It looked fun and lightweight, an old-school yarn of highwaymen and magic. Early on, that's what it seemed like it would be. Kit's young and naive, but he does his best when confronted with his master's true occupation. Then he faces his first challenge, rescuing the halfblood fairy Princess Morgana from a marriage to England's young king-in-waiting George III, and the story grows shaky as it relies on too many coincidences and last-minute deus ex machina saves while Kit proves inept at basic tasks (though, to be fair, nobody tells him enough about fairy magic for him to anticipate its effects - then they often berate him for not knowing.) Before long, the inexperienced boy finds himself caretaker of not one but two overemotional and helpless women - one of them the self-same fairy princess, whose inexperience in the real world I could buy but whose utter ineptness about her own powers (plus her general uselessness for most of the story) I just couldn't swallow. Yes, this was written in the style of the 1700's, but for a twenty-first century audience... I would've hoped we'd be a little beyond the cliche of the helpless damsel(s) in distress who must rely on a man, even an underaged man, for protection and guidance. There's supposed to be a budding romance between Kit and Princess Morgana, but none of their interactions are anything but stilted, full of stereotypical girlish mood swings and boyish obliviousness and confusion, with not a smidgen of chemistry or genuine affection. There are also a number of fairy folk flitting about, who behave largely as comic relief (particularly in their light-up behinds, which seems like the kind of silly detail a younger target audience would enjoy more but which gets far too much page time in this longer, slightly more grown-up story) but also can pose serious threats, if somewhat watered down by ridiculous appearances. The tale lurches along, veering from plot point to plot point as Kit wavers between clever hero and bumbling idiot, before coming to a drawn-out finale that really drives home how helpless women are and how lucky they should be that they have an English boy to save them. I never did connect with the characters, who too often seemed like flimsy plot constructs, and I only enjoyed their adventures in fits and starts, not helped by the forced faux-period storytelling style. I liked a few of the period details, and now and again the tale gained interest and momentum, but it never lived up to its potential.

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