The Black Riders (by Violet Needham)

I am still shaking my head as I wonder why I did not start reading Violet Needham's books many years ago. She was one of my mother's favourite writers; she read them as a child, and re-read regularly as an adult. For some reason they didn't appeal to me until after my mother passed away, a year ago, at which point I collected all her books by this author to keep in memory. This is the fourth one I've read, and as with the others I've enjoyed it very much.

The hero of 'The Black Riders' is 11-year-old Dick, an orphan who lives in an unnamed empire, presumably somewhere in central Europe, in the early part of the 20th century. He befriends a mysterious man who is part of a political uprising against the current governor, and saves him from being found. Dick then finds himself caught up in an underground resistance movement where he passes on messages, walks many miles, risks his life regularly, and stays strong to some important promises.

I have to say that political adventure stories about boys are not really my kind of book; yet I liked it very much. This was, apparently, Violet Needham's first novel, first published in 1939. The writing is fast-paced, the characters well-drawn. If the plot is a little confusing at times - I wasn't entirely sure of the political ramifications, or why the resistance movement had to be so secret - it doesn't actually matter too much, since the story is about adventure with a strong theme of fortitude alongside loyalty under extreme pressure.

Unsurprisingly it feels dated; at first I thought it was older than it is, until there was mention of cars. Undoubtedly there are stereotypes and caricatures too; yet the 'good' people have their faults, and the 'bad' ones don't all turn out to be quite so bad after all, even if their motivations are sometimes a bit dubious.

All in all I thought this a very good read, which would probably appeal to adventure-loving children from the age of about nine or ten upwards, if they read fluently; it could also make an excellent read-aloud, as adults can enjoy it too.

Not currently in print, and second-hand prices are very high; however this may be available in some libraries.

Review by copyright 2014 Sue's Book Reviews

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