It's one of those books they make you read in school, simply because they've been making kids read it in school for so many years they've forgotten other books exist. Or at least that's my theory. Not all of us like pirate stories. I'm interested in pirates in the historical aspect; I like reading about actual pirates, but when it comes to pirate fiction, my interest begins and ends with Jack Sparrow. Eccentric, always tipsy, played by one of my favorite actors of all time... he's a pirate I can get interested in.
That said, Robert Louis Stevenson is one of those classic writers whose name is too well known to ignore. Which is how I ended up choosing another of his books, "The Black Arrow," to read. (I also chose "The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde", which I have not gotten to yet.)
"The Black Arrow" takes place during the War of the Roses (google it) in England. The atmosphere is tense and militant, and the call goes out for all able-bodied men to gather to join the fight. In the midst of all of this, a letter signed "John Amend-All" declares that four men will be killed with four black arrows, payment for crimes they committed and covered up. The letter specifically mentions the murder of Sir Harry Shelton, which is critical because Shelton's son Dick is a ward of Sir Daniel Brackley, one of the men accused in the letter of Shelton's murder. Though at first Dick refuses to believe that Brackley and the other 3 men are involved in his father's death, the letter awakens an interest in discovering what really DID happen to his dad.
On the way back from delivering a message for Brackley, Dick stumbles upon a boy who introduces himself as John Matcham, who had been kidnapped by Brackley and is now fleeing in search of safety. Dick agrees to help the boy get to his destination, and along the way John tries to convince Dick that Sir Daniel Brackley is not a good person and that Dick should turn against him. John also tries to talk Dick into pursuing the truth about Brackley's role in his father's murder. Dick is resistant, but when the two are eventually captured by Brackley and returned to his home, Sir Daniel's behavior combined with his evasion of questions regarding the murder convince Dick that Brackley was involved after all.
At this point, Dick realizes that his life is in danger and that he needs to escape; he also finds out that "John" is actually Joanna Sedley, an orphaned heiress from a neighboring estate. He falls in love with Joanna, and together they try to escape; Dick succeeds, but Joanna is caught and remains Sir Daniel's captive.
Dick ends up fighting with "John Amend-All", who is actually a group of outlaws lead by Ellis Duckworth. Duckworth had become an outlaw when he was accused of murdering Sir Harry Shelton, and it is for that reason that he is seeking revenge. Another of the outlaws, Will Lawless, befriends Dick and joins him on his mission to rescue Joanna from Brackley.
There is a lot of action from this point to the end, but I won't spoil all the fun-- suffice it to say that this book is never boring, the life of Dick Shelton is lively but fraught with danger, and the Black Arrow outlaws keep things interesting.
I suspected early on that "John Matcham" was actually a girl; the boy-meets-boy-who-is-actually-a-girl-and-they-fall-in-love has been done so many times at this point that it wasn't a shock to me, although I'm not sure how surprising a plot twist it would have been in the late 19th century when it was written. The primary appeal of the book was all of the dangerous twists and turns that the plot takes; it's hard not to root for Dick Shelton, the troubled protagonist who is loyal to a fault and has a heart of gold.
Hard to say whether I'd recommend it or not; the language and sentence structure of the 19th century can be a bit difficult to muddle through, but the story leaves nothing to be desired; it's an exciting and enjoyable story. MUCH better, in my humble opinion, than Stevenson's much more renown "Treasure Island." Jim Hawkins' got nothing on Dick Shelton.