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DAvid Balfour

by Robert Louis Stevenson
Series: David Balfour #2
372 pages, Historical Fiction
Reviewed by Jeanne

A slower, more romantic sequel to

Plot

Note: This sequel to "Kidnapped" was published under the title "David Balfour," changed to "Catriona" in British publications. It can be found under both titles.

This novel continues the story of young David Balfour, the newly-made heir of the House of Shaws. Picking up where "Kidnapped" left off, it tells the story of the Appin Murder Trial and David's attempt to gain justice for the wrongly-accused James of the Glen. Paralleling this are David's efforts to woo Catriona, the spirited daughter of ne'er-do-well James MacGregor Drummond. Unfortunately, David's luck has not changed since the "Kidnapped" days, and it looks as though both may end in failure.

Morality

David is a proud young man, sometimes too proud for his own good; in general, however, he holds to a strict moral code. At times he does consider giving up his pursuit of justice and returning to a quiet life in his own home. However, he continues to fight the English court system in his attempt to save James of the Glen from hanging for a crime he never committed, and to clear Alan Breck's name of complicity in the murder. Occasionally David does fall easy prey to the wiles of the Lord Advocate, Prestongrange, who manipulates him with flattery (pandering to David's pride) and promises (pandering to his ambition).

The court system itself is obviously twisted and intent on hanging a man known, or at least suspected, to be innocent, based on greater political ends. The Lord Advocate, portrayed as an irritating but sometimes sympathetic man, manipulates not only David but witnesses and facts as well. His daughter, Miss Grant, is like him in this, but David's narration gives her a more favorable aspect.

Catriona is devoted to her father, despite his apparent worthlessness, and is willing to go so far as to help him escape prison. David struggles with showing respect to James Drummond, but generally manages with grace. A character accepts a bribe for betraying a fugitive, but this is anything but condoned.

When David and Catriona find it necessary to rent a house together while in a foreign country, they pass themselves off as brother and sister to protect Catriona's reputation. David takes the step in order to protect Catriona, but still struggles with the morality of it and with the difficulty of their situation.

Spiritual Content

David appears to have been brought up with a traditional Christian background, which shapes his conscience and spurs him to do "the right thing." He prays once or twice for courage, and Scripture is quoted several times. A character is described as a "good Whig and Presbyterian" and devoted to his duty, but that duty happens to be ensuring that the truth is smothered and an innocent man hanged. A man tells a ghost story in which someone is implied to be a sorcerer and in league with the Devil.

Violence

The background of the story is the Appin Murder, which took place in "Kidnapped." There is the constant fear that James of the Glens might be hanged, or that David himself might go to the gallows; Alan Breck is also at risk while in British territory. David walks by a gallows and sees the bodies of two hanged men. A duel is fought. A character is kidnapped and held prisoner. In the ghost story aforementioned, a man shoots and kills someone believed to be a warlock. There is a sword-fight and a character is wounded.

Drug and Alcohol Content

Prestongrange drinks wine to some excess, and later another man becomes tipsy after much drink. Ale and wine are both drunk in greater moderation by other characters, including David.

Sexual Content

David falls in love with Catriona, but his relationship with her is noble and honorable; when the two must live together and pass themselves off as brother and sister, he struggles with the situation. Miss Grant is something of a flirt.

Crude or Profane Language or Content

God's name is invoked at times (as in "for God's sake") and taken in vain a few others, usually in derivative forms ("Dod"). "D***" is used two or three times. James MacGregor calls Alan a "b******". David is appalled by one old woman's use of words like "gelding."

Conclusion

While not so adventurous, nor so full of action as "Kidnapped," "David Balfour" is an enjoyable tale as it follows the threads not tied up in the first story. It is intriguing to learn the full history of the Appin Murder Trials (fictionalized through David's narration, naturally), though the fact that Stevenson had to stay true to history does take away from the thrill of a fast-paced story. The progression here is slower and not always as focused, though split, as in "Kidnapped," between two basic plots: the Appin Murder and Catriona.

However, Stevenson's prose, the Scots dialect (heavier than in "Kidnapped"), and the character of Alan Breck do appear again with all their former glory, paired with new pleasures like the introduction of a love interest for David - plus such sparks of action as a duel and a sword-fight. For those who have read and fallen in love with the narrator's character and voice in "Kidnapped," "David Balfour" presents a fresh and pleasant sequel in the same literary style.

Fun Score: 3.5
Values Score: 3
Written for Age: 13+

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