Inspired by the famous poem by Alfred Noyes, The Highwayman’s Footsteps traces the adventures of William, a young runaway and his friend Bess, a highwayman’s daughter. 18th century England is a context of national turmoil. Against this backdrop, the pair must determine the boundaries between right and wrong as they try to make a difference.
Morgan is certainly true to her inspiration and uses rich and vivid poetic language in order to bring the time and place of her tale to epic life. Words are carefully chosen and strong metaphors are used. Much of the book, if not historically accurate, is based on true circumstances. So reading The Highwayman’s Footsteps is a great way to gain some background knowledge on the period, especially for younger readers. At the same time there is plenty of action and suspense to keep readers interested.
Bess and William each have weaknesses that they need to overcome and fears that they need to face. Bess’ difficult life has led her to act as a Robin Hood figure who sees theft as justifiable. William’s character serves as a good counterpoint to this, though he initially lacks the conviction to stand up for what he believes in. Together they develop neither blindly nor instinctively, but with reflection. They ask questions and learn about life, morality and courage along the way. In the end, both characters are not perfect, but truly human and their interaction with each other results in a good balance between values, conviction and action.
Characters, language and plot aside; what truly struck me about The Highwayman’s Footsteps was the author’s letter to her readers. I will let her words speak for themselves:
The lives and deaths of people in stories and poems, whether true or not, make us think about the world and – perhaps, if we are brave enough – change it.
Maryana Garcia is the eldest of four sisters. A student at the University of Auckland, New Zealand, she plans to major in History and is currently an employee at the Mount Albert Community Library.