The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan
|The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan|
|Category: Confident Readers|
|Reviewer: Jill Murphy|
|Summary: This is a wonderfully well-written book, with well-chosen vocabulary and serious moral dilemmas. It's meticulously researched and a real epic of an adventure story too. Highly recommended for 10s and up.|
|Buy? Yes||Borrow? Yes|
|Pages: N/A||Date: November 2006|
|Publisher: Walker Books Ltd|
High-born William de Lacey has run away from home. Branded a coward by his bullying father and sneering brother, he has no idea where he will go or what he will do. All of a sudden, his secure and protected world has crumbled to ruins. Will knows that stealing is wrong, but within a few days, he has become a thief. Is it still as wrong to steal if the alternative is to starve? When Will falls in with Bess, a writer and seller of ballads by day, but a highwayman by night, he is forced to ask and answer many more such questions. Bess is an eighteenth century Robin Hood figure. She steals from the rich to give to the poor. As Will and Bess face terrifying dangers together, these questions lead Will remorselessly towards the ultimate confrontation with his violent and corrupt father and brother.
The Highwayman's Footsteps was inspired by Alfred Noyes' famous poem, The Highwayman, much loved by school curricula up and down the land. It's a strong poem, full of drama, and this book doesn't let it down. Bess is the child of the poem's highwayman and his landlord's daughter lover, so cruelly murdered by the redcoats. The terrible fate of her parents is the source of Bess' fire and passion and the book is scattered with some of most rhythmic lines in the ballad...
Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, When they shot him down on the highway, Down like a dog on the highway, And he lay in his blood on the highway, with the bunch of lace at his throat.''
Not many children's authors write such considered novels, even those writing for the young adult market. The Highwayman's Footsteps is not a story or a parable. It is a true novel, bearing analysis. The simple plot provides a wonderfully rollicking adventure that builds tension well and is great fun to read. However, it isn't really about Will's adventures - they are the means by which Will is able to test his thoughts, beliefs and values. And through Will, the reader is vicariously able to do the same. Thus, the book is written in a first-person narrative. This is challenging for children, as they must also decide whether or not Will, as the narrator, is reliable. Language is used very deliberately and there are a lot of strong and striking metaphors.
Ultimately, through The Highwayman's Footsteps, children are beckoned into a world where morality is always ambiguous and their every decision is part of a complex system of cause and effect. The marvellous thing about the book is that this careful planning doesn't impact even the tiniest bit upon the its passion. If you wanted to show a child what amazing use a writer can make of discipline and good technique, then The Highwayman's Footsteps would be a great place to start. Even more depressing for me then, to find that the book being used to introduce my older son to this sparkling world of literary and artistic possibility is the mercenary, superficial and above all soulless tripe of A Series of Unfortunate Events by that non-person, Lemony Snicket. It's enough to make you commit hara-kiri.
I really enjoyed The Highwayman's Footsteps. It's a rollicking adventure. The characters are vivid and strong. Still better, there's a great deal to explore after reading. Nicola Morgan also has an interesting and inspirational web site. It's well worth a visit by both parents and children alike.
Thanks to the publisher, Walker, for sending the book.
You can read more book reviews or buy The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan at Amazon.co.uk
You can read more book reviews or buy The Highwayman's Footsteps by Nicola Morgan at Amazon.com.
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