In 1751 in Scotland, cheated out of his inheritance by a greedy uncle who has him kidnapped and put on a ship to the Carolinas, seventeen-year-old David Balfour escapes to the Highlands with the help of the Jacobite Alan Breck Stewart and there encounters further danger and intrigue as he attempts to clear his name and regain his property.
Oh, and if you enjoy "Kidnapped", you will want to read Stevenson's sequel, "Catriona", written many years later while living in the South Pacific. "Catriona" has a different 'feel' to it from "Kidnapped", but is an enjoyable read, and ties up a lot of loose ends from "Kidnapped".
In my review of Treasure Island, I called Stevenson a master of atmosphere, and that’s true here as well. He has a most miraculous ability to make me feel like I’ve stepped into a new world and am experiencing it for the first time, side by side with our hero, David Balfour:
On the forenoon of the second day, coming to the top of a hill, I saw all the country fall away before me down to the sea; and in the midst of this descent, on a long ridge, the city of Edinburgh smoking like a kiln. There was a flag upon the castle, and ships moving or lying anchored in the firth; both of which, for as far away as they were, I could distinguish clearly; and both brought my country heart into my mouth.
But while every page of Treasure Island seems to be bathed in salty air, and Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde in grimy fog, in Kidnapped the atmosphere varies from setting to setting, from scene to scene. There’s a Gothic air pervading the encounters with Uncle Ebenezer (truly one of the lowest and most despicable of Stevenson’s characters, and not at all similar to his usual Devil-as-Gentleman villain), followed by a nautical section that invokes all of the danger and little of the lightness of Treasure Island. The majority of the tale, however, centers on the romance and mystique of the highlands.
The character who best embodies Stevenson’s idea of highland honor is Alan Breck Stewart; all the complexity that Stevenson spared in creating Uncle Ebenezer he seems to have kept in reserve for the portrait of this adventurous outlaw, who was a real historical personage. Stevenson’s Alan is alternately heroic and petty, friendly and shortsighted. At times he almost seems younger than his juvenile companion, although he’s never less than sympathetic.
By my calculations, David himself ought to be roughly the same age as Jim in Treasure Island, but David is the more complicated character, and thus Kidnapped reads as an “older” story. Unfortunately, it’s also more episodic than Treasure Island, with a weaker plot and an open ending. Still, I enjoyed it, and look forward to reading more Stevenson—including the sequel, Catriona!
To get a start in life, recently orphaned David Balfour must make his way to his uncle Ebenezer, but miserly Ebenezer Balfour has a secret to guard. He arranges for David to be kidnapped aboard the Covenant, where the young man has little hope of rescue until a rich stranger is picked up from a shipwreck. Overhearing the captain's plans to ambush and rob Alan Breck, David assists the little Highlander in defending the ship's cabin and winning free. Then follows a wild adventure through the heather, as David must flee or be caught up in a Highland feud. And behind it all is the mystery of why Uncle Ebenezer would go to such lengths to rid himself of an unwelcome nephew.
Stevenson's gift for writing believable characters never shows to better advantage than in his depiction of Alan Breck. Despite his diminutive stature, Alan towers large in both vanity and open-hearted friendship. Generous and brave but possessing a quick temper and a weakness for gambling, Alan becomes David's constant companion and guide through the physically and politically treacherous Highlands. I appreciated the realism of their friendship, quarrels and all.
It was fascinating to read this directly after finishing Rob Roy, which was apparently Stevenson's favorite of Sir Walter Scott's historical novels. I can see the influence. Stevenson dials the Scots back a bit (thank heavens) but still manages to give his dialogue a little Highland flavor.
It was also interesting to note the passing mention of the estate Rest-and-Be-Thankful, which is the setting of Elizabeth Marie Pope's novel The Sherwood Ring. Actually, reading Kidnapped and Rob Roy so close together gave me several insights on Pope's story, which takes elements of both novels (notably the villainous uncle and the Robin Hood-like outlaw characters) and reworks them into a fully satisfying tale in its own right.
Young readers can't do much better than to read Stevenson, and I look forward to reading his novels to my son when he's old enough. Recommended!
The novel begins in 1751 with David Balfour, our young and resourceful Scottish protagonist, setting out to the house of the Shaws upon the death of his parents. Here he meets his uncle Ebeneezer, a wheedling little man who, rather than welcoming him with open arms, attempts to murder him to seize the family fortune. When this fails he sells David into slavery aboard a ship bound for the Carolinas.
What follows is a swashbuckling adventure of the highest order, containing shipwrecks, gunfights, sword duels, murder, pursuit by the British Army, outlaw hideouts and all manner of boy's adventure tropes. Yet it's a far more serious and polished novel than I make it sound, set against a well-developed political and historical backdrop and featuring several real-life figures - most notably David's friend and mentor Alan Breck, a Scottish Jacobite. I don't quite know what that is! Nonetheless, it grants "Kidnapped" a solid sense of time and place, which drags a little during David's endless flight across the heather but which, on the whole, contributes into making it a more refined novel than the sort of typical adventure tale that any halfway decent writer can churn out (and which, indeed, I have been churning out for many years).
It's also, despite being written in the nineteenth century, a remarkably easy book to read. Writers back then often had higher standards of vocabulary and style, which means contemporary readers often have trouble reading them, but "Kidnapped" could easily have been penned in the mid-twentieth century. This is probably the oldest book I've read that I found both enjoyable and worth my time. ("Moby-Dick," written in 1851, was certainly worth my time, but "enjoyable" is not the first word it brings to mind.)
Overall "Kidnapped" is a pretty fun read, and I'll check out "Treasure Island" when I get the chance.
The story itself is of a young man of 17 who's father passes away & leaves him an orphan, since the mother passed years before. David gets instructions from Mr. Campbell, his father's laird, to go seek his uncle Ebenezer, since he is the last of the Balfour family. Uncle Ebenezer, like the other famous character by that name, is not a nice guy. He arranges to have his nephew shanghai'd by a boat crew, to be sold as a white slave in the Carolinas. Well, all manner of mishaps occur, & the boat never makes it because it's wrecked off the coast. David makes his way across Scotland with Alan, who's a bit of a bad guy himself, but, he takes care of David, & that's how that odd friendship develops. Eventually, David makes his way back...
I won't give away the ending, you'll just have to read it for yourself
Protagonist David Balfour is the heir to his uncle's estate, but his uncle doesn't want to share, so he arranges for his nephew to be taken to the Carolinas as a slave. Sometimes plans just don't follow through as we'd like, and David finds himself on the run, trying to survive long enough to get home and enact revenge.
Good story, should be interesting and/or readable for youth and up.
Note: I gave this book three stars: the story moved along nicely, although the Scottish words used throughout the text had me skipping to the glossary in the back of the book, a lot.
But there the similarity does stop. Kidnapped is exclusively about 18th Century Scotland & its entirely unforgettable inhabitants. Its sea voyage is a circumnavigation of Scotland, no more, no less. The perilous return to the home town takes place across hills & heather. Finally & most important, every character in the novel is as Scottish as its teenage hero - or as Stevenson was himself.
You might say that Kidnapped offers all the assets of Treasure Island, plus one: the tense but warm atmosphere of an independence-loving nation during the waning years of its armed rebellion against the English. Stevenson, in loving mastery of his subject yet never as uncritical as he seems, ignores neither politics, intrigues, & clan quarrels, nor the (predictable) homage to bagpipe & tartans. The book is therefore flavoursome in a manner that even Treasure Island, for all its power, never attains. The historical & cultural depth here is simply greater - & the book perhaps as entertaining.
this story are becoming alive while you reading it. amazing details. intersting ending. true stories. its mix happinese and sadnese. i love it very much.
The book's hero, David Balfour, is a Lowland Scot. His parents both dead, he sets out to find his extended family. The book starts and ends with his search for his rightful inheritance but the bulk of the book is the story of an epic journey, first in an ill-fated brig around Scotland and then across the country on foot as a fugitive with a colourful Jacobite companion, Alan Breck Stewart. Stevenson takes a true event, the Appin murder, as the start of this. Colin Roy Campbell, the King's factor in the Western Highlands was shot and killed by an unknown sniper. Alan Stewart (an historical character) was blamed by many, probably wrongly, but never apprehended. In a major miscarriage of justice, James Stewart, a clan chief, was hanged as an aider and abetter. Kidnapped has David Balfour joining up with a fictionalised Alan Stewart and sharing his flight to safety.
The first part of the book with the kidnap and the time at sea is exciting although, to be honest, the flight across the heather in the second part is fairly uneventful, focussing more on the variable relationship between David and Alan than any derring-do. The descriptions of the changing Highland weather and landscape are worth reading for the sense of atmosphere.
This was regarded, like Treasure Island, as the equivalent of a YA book in my youth and it is interesting to read in Stevenson's dedication that he doesn't necessarily expect the dedicatee to enjoy it but he thinks his son might. I am glad I caught up with it.
It was this book, along with the earlier Treasure Island (1883) and A Child's Garden of Verses (1885) which first drew me to Stevenson more than fifty years ago. Along with a handful of other authors these books became the foundation of my early reading and love of books. I still have that feeling for Stevenson as I have gradually explored some of his other novels and essays. While he is considered one of England's most popular writers of "Children's Literature", these novels and his others, especially The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, are worth exploring and enjoying as an adult. Jekyll and Hyde in particular, provoked by a dream and written in a ten-week burst during the writing of Kidnapped, is one of the outstanding examples of the use of the theme of 'the double' in literature, and a classic late Victorian text. Though Stevenson wrote prolifically and in almost every genre, these four books from the mid-1880s are all he would need to be remembered more than a century later. This reader continues to look back a the beginning of his reading as a boy and remember when he first encountered the adventures depicted in Kidnapped and Treasure Island.
Young David Balfour discovers after his father’s death that his family has unexpected wealth and power. David ventures off to meet up with his father’s only brother and finds a man who deceives him and sells him off into slavery, sending David off on a ship bound for America. On the ship, David meets lots more bad guys and there is a lot of shooting and fighting. He falls overboard, survives to live for a while on an isolated island, and then gets thrown into a Scottish struggle for power, with more shooting and scavenging.
I loved the action in this book. With books like these available, you can see why so many boys read books a hundred years ago.
I also loved all the new-to-me words in this book. I could write a whole post on all the new words I discovered while reading this book. Ay, faith, I ken Scotland be a braw place, no sae bad as ye would think, in this bonny tale of a man and a halfling boy, who werenae feared of being laid by the heels, hoot-toot, hoot-toot.
Setting, pacing, fascinating historical information, the characters of both the land and the people, and the relationship between the protagonists--a Whig and a Jacobite--absolutely brilliant and utterly thirst-quenching.