The Accidental Highwayman

Book review by
Mary Eisenhart, Common Sense Media
The Accidental Highwayman Book Poster Image
Bandits and faeries mix in rollicking fantasy series debut.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this book.

Educational Value

There's plenty of fanciful adventure here, as well as magical events. But along the way, readers will learn a lot about 18th-century England, from common slang terms to political intrigue and the first rumblings of the Industrial Revolution -- and a bit of geography, too. Author Tripp acknowledges the influence of a litany of authors, including J.R.R. Tolkien, Lewis Carroll, Robert Louis Stevenson, Jane Austen, Henry Fielding (whose Tom Jones gets a brief mention in the story), Charlotte Brontë, and Antoine de Saint-Exupery. Classical allusions abound, such as, "Morgana remained both Scylla and Charybdis, and I the most inept Odysseus imaginable."

Positive Messages

Strong messages about love, creative thinking, accepting responsibility, and protecting your loved ones. Also being able to adapt to rapidly changing circumstances, and the fact that rescue comes from the unlikeliest quarters. There are interesting questions to ponder, such as Morgana's musing, "Have you ever done something for entirely selfish reasons, and then discovered there was a far better reason to do it?"

Positive Role Models & Representations

Although often completely out of his depth (as with many other heroes of comic 18th-century adventures), Kit tries to do the right thing and live up to his responsibilities, which gets complicated. Princess Morgana evolves from a strong-willed teen to a monarch who cares for her people. Villainous forces, human and magical, are plentiful, but so are the human and magical characters who stand up to them.

Violence

Kit is in constant danger from law enforcement agents who are busy rounding up highwaymen and sending them to the gallows. Humans and faeries suffer injury and sometimes death in various battles. Morgana is being held prisoner and forced into an unwanted marriage. A character under an evil spell assaults a perfectly innocent person.

Sex

One of the characters is unlucky in love, and the latest man to lead her astray has just departed the scene as the story opens. Kit falls in love with Morgana at first sight, and she's attracted to him, too, but they never so much as kiss, because kissing has fateful consequences in faery culture.

Language

In true 18th-century fashion, the occasional mild swear word is rendered with dashes, such as "D---!" for "Damn!"

Consumerism

The book includes the first chapter of the sequel.

Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

Assorted potions and concoctions, some poisonous, play a role in the story. Some of the action takes place in taverns, but drinking is more part of the scenery than of the plot.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that The Accidental Highwayman is the first installment in a new young-adult series by Ben Tripp, previously known for adult zombie fiction. He takes on the tale and the voice of 16-year-old 18th-century orphan Kit Bristol and, as the title says, "his horse Midnight, a Mysterious Princess, and Sundry Magical Persons Besides" -- a crowd-pleasing mix. There are battle scenes in which characters die, and Kit himself is under constant threat of being arrested and hanged. That -- and the moral ambiguity of gentleman bandits -- aside, there's little problematic material here. Kit is sent on a mission to rescue a kidnapped faery, and the two fall in love, but they never kiss, because kissing is a fateful matter in faery culture. Swear words occasionally are indicated but not fully spelled out, as in "D---!" 

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What's the story?

THE ACCIDENTAL HIGHWAYMAN is the tale of Kit Bristol, an 18th-century English orphan who gets into assorted troubles. He's spent much of his youth as a trick rider in the circus of the man who bought him from the workhouse, then becomes the servant of an impoverished nobleman who wins him in a card game. Soon, he makes the unwelcome discovery that his master is actually the gentlemanly highwayman Whistling Jack -- and is forced to assume the bandit's identity when the man unexpectedly dies. Before too long, he's sent on a mission to rescue a kidnapped faery who's being forced into an unwelcome marriage. It's love at first sight, but the path of true love never runs smooth. In this case, the hapless Kit must contend with two warring armies of magical beings and most of British law enforcement, hell-bent on ridding the roads of robbers, along with all the complications of first (and star-crossed) love. 

Is it any good?

Tripp's 18th-century narrative style may be a barrier to action-oriented or younger kids, but Kit's lively, self-deprecating style and the illustrations and constant ups and downs will appeal. The horse Midnight and the French bulldog Demon will draw fans of their own. The conclusion averts some immediate problems but sets the stage for many more.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about highwayman stories. How would you compare highwaymen and pirates? Which do you like better?

  • When an author uses the language of the past, as Ben Tripp does here, does it make it harder to follow the story? Do you think it would be better or worse if the story were told in modern English?

  • Morgana's being married off to someone she doesn't like for political reasons. How would you feel about being in that situation?

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