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'The Accidental Highwayman': Critics praise the YA fantasy adventure

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(Read caption) 'The Accidental Highwayman' is by Ben Tripp.

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Author Ben Tripp is earning critical praise for his novel, “The Accidental Highwayman,” his first foray into the young adult genre.

“Highwayman” follows Kit Bristol, a young man living in eighteenth-century England who is the servant of a man he doesn't know is actually a highwayman known as Whistling Jack. When his master is killed, Kit must continue Whistling Jack’s work to help a fairy princess avoid a marriage to the king.

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Tripp was previously behind the zombie novel “Rise Again” and its sequel, “Rise Again Below Zero.” The author told book industry newsletter Shelf Awareness that his previous work informed “Highwayman.”

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“I wrote the book as a whimsical outburst as a response to writing a horror novel [for adults],” he said. “I thought, ‘I can write this jolly story.’ It didn't have any "language" in it, because it wasn't required, and it didn't have grisly bits because Kit wouldn't have described that kind of thing; it turned out to be completely suitable to YA.”

The book was released on Oct. 14 and has earned widespread critical praise. Amal El-Mohtar of NPR wrote that the book is a “charming fantasy romp… This book was delightfully fun; Kit is an engaging point-of-view character, and tucked away between amusing dialogue and wacky high jinks are occasional moments of real poignancy,” though he noted that it “disappoint[ed] this Brit-lit scholar's hopeful expectations of a richer textual complexity.” And Publishers Weekly wrote of the book, “Tripp infuses his story with whimsy, humor, and derring-do, and his miniature spot illustrations and handful of lovely full-page pieces add to the overall charm.”

Meanwhile, School Library Journal gave it a starred review, with Caitlin Augusta of Connecticut’s Stratford Library Association writing, “It is difficult not to be entertained by Kit's first person narration that blends historical detail with the antics of the fairy kingdom… Readers will root for star-crossed lovers, Kit and Morgana… drawn onward by a rollicking plot. Informative footnotes occasionally pull readers out of the story, though they dwindle as the story progresses.” And Kirkus Reviews wrote of the book, “Kit's wry voice provides a fine pastiche of old-fashioned tale-telling, slightly hampered by the sprinkling of didactic footnotes but enlivened by breakneck pacing, colorful similes and a sly wit aimed at modern sensibilities. While the lovely Princess Morgana, alas, does little but look pretty, act feisty and need rescuing, the rest of the characters are delightfully over-the-top, and Kit himself is as brave, clever and good-natured an orphan lad as ever buckled a swash. The promise of more adventures to come provides happily-ever-after enough. They can still write 'em like they used to; hurrah!”


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