Although the literary style of The Black Arrow might make it difficult for younger adolescents, the story’s quality rewards the effort. As a young adult, the hero must shape his existence in a world of conflicting loyalties. He confronts a series of interconnected choices, all of which can be subsumed into the choice between love and violence. Southern England, the novel’s setting, is fraught by war and local unrest. All the people Shelton respects and loves are threatened by John Amend-all: his foster father, his spiritual adviser, and even Shelton’s best friend, a soldier in Brackley’s service. Curiously, Shelton himself is excepted from the grievance list; vengeance is claimed in his name.

Caught on the horns of a dilemma between friendship and suspicion, Shelton vacillates between the two extremes. Another young man, “John Matcham,” begs Shelton to help “him” escape from Brackley and forces Shelton into action. As the two steal away, they become friends, although Shelton frequently complains about Matcham’s physical weakness and sensitivity. Kindness to others is not weakness, however, which the novel points out. Matcham, really a pampered young noblewoman in disguise, is easily the equal of Shelton. First of all, she is just as brave, vowing to stay by him in spite of all danger. Further, she is more compassionate; he is frequently ruthless, as for example, when Shelton surprises and kills one of Amend-all’s followers with a hunting knife.

As the reader might expect,...

(The entire section is 624 words.)