HOME SCHOOL BOOK REVIEW
Book: The Four Feathers
Author: Alfred E. W. Mason
Publisher: Barnes and Noble Classics, republished in 2005
Related website: www.barnesandnoble.com/classics
Language level: 3
(1=nothing objectionable; 2=common euphemisms and/or childish slang terms; 3=some cursing or profanity; 4=a lot of cursing or profanity; 5=obscenity and/or vulgarity)
Reading level: Teens and adults
Rating: 4 stars (GOOD)
Reviewed by Wayne S. Walker
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Mason, Alfred E. W. (originally published in 1902 by Macmillan; republished in 2005 by Barnes and Noble Books, 122 Fifth St., New York City, NY 10011). Harry Feversham, son of a British general during the Crimean War, is haunted by both his family’s remarkable history of service in the British army and the stories of cowardice that he had heard told as a boy during his father’s annual “Crimea Nights” reunions. Due to his fear of becoming a coward and staining his ancestors’ reputation, Harry resigns his commission in the East Surrey Regiment just prior to Sir Garnet Wolseley’s 1882 expedition to Egypt to suppress the rising of Urabi Pasha. Yet three of his comrades, Captain Trench and Lieutenants Castleton and Willoughby, send him three white feathers to express their disapproval of his act, and his Irish fiancée, Ethne Eustace, presents him with a fourth feather and breaks their engagement. Harry’s best friend in the regiment, Captain Durrance becomes his rival for Ethne.
After talking with Lieutenant Sutch, a friend of his father, Harry decides to redeem himself by acts that will force his former friends to take back the feathers and might in turn encourage Ethne to take back her feather. Thus, he travels on his own to Egypt and Sudan. Meanwhile, Durrance is blinded by sunstroke and is sent home. Over the next six years, Castleton is killed at Tamai, but Willoughby is now a commander and Harry, with the aid of a Sudanese Arab Abou Fatma, succeeds in recovering some lost letters and getting them to Willoughby. Then he learns that Trench is imprisoned in the “House of Stone” at Omdurman and allows himself to be captured in an attempt to rescue him. Meanwhile, Durrance and Ethne become engaged, though each secretly realizes that there are problems in their relationship. Will Harry and Trench escape? Does Ethne take back her feather? Can Durrance find a cure for his blindness? And who will marry whom?
This book was recommended to me by my friend Thaxter Dickey, a professor at Florida College. Alfred Edward Woodley Mason (1865-1948) was a British politician and author, of whom it is said that he delighted readers with adventure novels and detective stories written in a style reminiscent of Robert Louis Stevenson, Rudyard Kipling, and Arthur Conan Doyle. I would add that this book reminds me of H. Rider Haggard, author of King Solomon’s Mines and She. Mason wrote more than twenty books but is best known for The Four Feathers. There is very little objectionable in the story. A few minor references to smoking tobacco, drinking alcoholic beverages, and dancing occur, and the name of God, as in “Good God,” “My God,” and “O God,” is used as an interjection. However, the facts that people prayed, trusted in God, and looked to His providence are also mentioned. And the idea of honor is quite strong. The plot may move a little too slowly and be a bit too complex for young children, but teens as young as thirteen and adults who like exotic adventure stories should enjoy it. I know that I did.