Sunday, February 07, 2010

A Perfect 10: REBELS AND TRAITORS - Lindsey Davis

A Perfect 10
St. Martin’s Press
ISBN: 978-0-312-59541-8
January 2010
Historical Fiction

England Before, During, and After the Civil War

The English Civil War is pretty much a period in British history with which most Americans have only a casual acquaintance. Most of us know about Oliver Cromwell and know that King Charles I was executed, but how many of us know what led up to the conflict and how it affected everyday citizens? Lindsey Davis has written this incredible, impeccably researched novel that will, while not quite in a nutshell, take us through the integral events leading up to the internal war that forever changed English life.

What do you do with a monarch who hasn’t a clue on how to govern? Or how to deal with the people he rules? Or even how to work with the members of his court? Charles, unlike his father, thinks that it is his God-given right to be king and that he owes nothing to his subjects; they are basically there to collect taxes to serve him. Despite plenty of warnings from his courtiers and advisors, Charles lives in a dream world, spending every penny he can collect while ignoring the needs of the citizens of England. All that will quickly come to a crashing, personally devastating end.

The everyday people who take sides in this conflict have to deal with the reality that they must either back their monarch, or take up arms against him. Both can and will be dangerous decisions. Gideon Jukes, son of a grocer, takes the side of the Parliamentarians who are determined to eliminate the need for a king. On the other side is Juliana Lovell, wife of a Royalist, Orlando, who has alienated his pro-rebel family. Then there is one who is thrown into the conflict because she has no one else, young Kinchin Tew, who will learn to be a chameleon in these dangerous times. How will these lives become intertwined? Life might be complicated for Charles I as he recruits his European family to fight the rebels, but for the average Englishman, it’s a daily matter of life and death. Which side is going to make their lives better? Or will either side be able to do that?

Gideon has always had an independent streak and, instead of apprenticing as a grocer, he begins to work with a printer. His family is supportive, but only his mother seems to truly understand her younger son. When the Trained Bands, local militias, in London begin to form, Gideon joins to stand up for his city as well as to oppose the rule of Charles I. Juliana is a survivor. Her quick thinking and calm composure in the face of danger make her the perfect wife for the mostly absent Orlando. Perfect because he's far from concerned about her or their children as he lives the life of a King's soldier and makes sure he gets as much as he gives to the army. His mercenary nature will become clear to Juliana. Secondary characters are vital and make a huge difference in the lives of Gideon, Juliana, Kinchin, and Orlando. Be prepared for a surprising and emotional conclusion.

I will admit that upon receiving REBELS AND TRAITORS, I was a bit intimidated by its size. But once readers get to know the multiple characters, this is a tough book to put down. It is a history lesson and a very enjoyable story of people and how they make their choices, how they live their lives, how they love, and how they survive in a world thrown into turmoil by a monarch who is oblivious to them, and those who have another agenda. Will it matter to the average Englishman who wins this conflict?

Interesting, realistic main characters that readers will care about, and plenty of well-rounded secondary ones, both real and fictional, make REBELS AND TRAITORS an incredibly tantalizing, mesmerizing novel. The detailed historical data is written in a way that makes for an enjoyable learning experience rather than just having each event presented in the context of the story. The English Civil War was a bloody, many times disorganized and often a confusing few years for both sides of the war. Lindsey Davis gives readers a reason to learn and a whole lot of book to relish.

Jani Brooks

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