The Master of Ballantrae
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Edition: Dover, paperback
My overall rating: 3.8 out of 5 stars
Charming, conniving, cruel, yet loved by almost all who know him, James Durisdeer is the oldest son of a Scottish nobleman, and destined–as he believes–for a life of fame, success, and power. Against others’ wishes, he leaves his estate and sets out to become a soldier, only to find that his immoral and wasteful lifestyle leads him to ruin. He takes out his anger on his younger brother, through whom James means to drain the Durisdeer estate of its wealth.
But apart from James, this book is as much about Henry Durie, who is the younger brother and the more responsible of the two. Like Guy Morville, Gregor Samsa, and Frodo Baggins, Henry is an upright young man with a strong sense of duty, a person whose consistent goodness is just as consistently persecuted by evil. Unlike saintly Sir Guy and stoic Frodo, however, Henry is more of an average guy, who heart is torn between hatred, brotherly love, and the seeming impossibility of forgiving his enemy.
This was a very strange book, in that its purpose is not easily defined, that the narration and settings vary vastly from one chapter to the next, and, too, for the fact that the ending was rather anticlimactic. Was Stevenson trying to make a statement, tell a memorable story, and/or portray character traits of people he had met? I don’t know. I was struck, though, by Henry’s love, which (within the realms of his sanity) ultimately overpowered all his suffering and bitterness. Even James’s charisma and tenacity, which made it to the end of the book, can’t hold a candle to Henry’s noble character.
In summary then, it was a rather depressing book, but in some ways worthwhile. On the other hand, there was a lot of profanity, and the book wasn’t particularly page-turning, so I wouldn’t give it a higher rating.