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Monday, June 15, 2015

The Accidental Highwayman: Being the Tale of Kit Bristol, His Horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides by Ben Tripp (Reviewed by Joshua Redlich)

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AUTHOR INFORMATION: Ben Tripp grew up in the US in a creative household of travelers and artists. He spent a year in England at age seven, followed by a year roaming throughout Europe in a VW camper van. He attended the Rhode Island School of Design for illustration and at the age of 22 he became the youngest show designer ever recruited by Disney to work at Walt Disney Imagineering.

He is the author of the adult novels Rise Again, Rise Again: Below Zero, and Fifth Chamber of the Heart. The Accidental Highwayman is his first novel for young adults.

OVERVIEW: It’s eighteenth century England, and Christopher “Kit” Bristol is the servant of the unassuming James Rattle, a nobleman who is none other than the notorious highwayman Whistling Jack. After a proclamation issues a warrant for the arrest of all highwaymen, Kit’s master returns home in the dead of night, dying from a bullet wound. Hoping to throw off his master’s attackers and gain him some time, Kit dons Rattle’s black riding costume and mask and is suddenly thrown into the life of a highwayman.

Now, the jealous Captain Sterne, taking him for Whistling Jack, is after him, but that is the least of his concerns, for he suddenly finds himself in the middle of a faerie story involving a witch, pixies, gryphons, trolls, goblings, and a faerie princess determined to escape an arranged marriage between herself and King George III.

With nothing but an enchanted map that shows the future, at the end of which is an image of him hanging from a noose, Kit and his motley crew—a princess, two pixies, a circus performer, her senile uncle, and a baboon named Fred—must flee to the free faerie state of Ireland before the princess is recaptured by her father, or even worse, the formidable One Eyed Duchess.

FORMAT: The Accidental Highwayman, author Ben Tripp’s debut YA novel and the first in a trilogy, is a light, historical fantasy that reads like a fairy tale, much like The Princess Bride and Stardust, though for a younger audience. Littered throughout with black and white illustrations by the author, the book is written as a first person account by Kit Bristol and given the backstory of being found in a trove of documents belonging to one of Tripp’s ancestors.

It consists of twenty-three titled chapters and was published on October 14, 2014 by Tor Teen as a hardcover, e-book, and audio book.

ANALYSIS: If one couldn’t tell from the amusingly long subtitle, The Accidental Highwayman is a lighthearted fairytale adventure complete with a ragtag fellowship of adventurers, a host of magical creatures, and plenty of magic and sword fighting to go with it. It’s an easy, fast-paced read that is written as the protagonist’s memoir, having been found by author Ben Tripp in a chest belonging to one of his ancestors. This backstory, while not necessarily important, adds a fun sense of truth to this obviously fictitious work of faeries, witches, and royalty. That combined with the author’s fairly accurate portrayal of the times allows readers to imagine an eighteenth century in which magic really existed, much like Susanna Clarke’s Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, though not nearly as complex or detail-oriented.

Readers can also gain a nice idea of what life in this time is like through the various characters and towns Kit Bristol comes in contact with, and through editorial footnotes explaining words the narrator uses, like “Weskit” and “phossy,” and offering short biographies of historical characters like King George II.

One of the most interesting aspects of the world Tripp has created is his version of fairyland, a place made up of three different realms: the First Realm, the Middle Kingdom, and the Outer Realm, also known as the Elden Kingdom. While all three are mentioned from time to time, with bits of details given here and there, the faerie realm is remains a primarily unexplored place by the end of the book, leaving room for a more extensive examination of the magical world in the forthcoming books in the trilogy.

But the best part of The Accidental Highwayman is probably the narrator himself, Kit Bristol, a poor but honorable fellow thrust into the life of a criminal. His writing is both eloquent and engaging, often painting quite beautiful pictures of his surroundings and adventures, and his character is incredibly well developed.

Unfortunately, the same cant be said for much of the other characters, who all seem a bit one dimensional, but their presence in the story is nonetheless enjoyable, and the juxtaposition of an elderly man with Alzheimer’s, an orangutan, and a faerie princess is a perfect example of the silly, humorous tone of the story.

Anyone looking for an easy read with aspects of historical fantasy and swashbuckling fairytale will certainly enjoy the adventures of Kit Bristol.


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