Book Review: Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

This is a lengthy novel, an epic of 742 pages and was not the fictional work with the English Civil War as its background that I expected. The novel started promisingly with an intriguing prologue, which introduced two of the main characters, but a few chapters in, I realized my error, when the fiction began to be dominated by swathes of social, political and military detail. It is much later in the novel that the focus remains on the main characters. 

Too many characters left me overwhelmed and a little confused. Not only was there a large cast of historical figures, but also the extended families of the other characters to follow, necessitating in some back tracking. I thought the way the characters crossed paths throughout the novel interesting and it was one of these chance meetings that leads to the dramatic ending.

As mentioned, the novel opens with a prologue. It is 1649 and the day of King Charles I’s execution. Among the spectators are a Roundhead Captain and a wife of an exiled Royalist.

The story then jumps back to 1634 when the Roundhead Captain, Gideon Jukes, is a rebellious thirteen year old about to be apprenticed to a printer. Seven years later, his apprenticeship served, Jukes joins one of the London Trained Bands and eventually rises to the rank of Captain in the New Model Army.  

Juliana Lovell, the wife of the exiled Royalist, Orlando Lovell, is abandoned by her husband for years at a time, and copes alone with being destitute and raising children. At times she is aided by friends, including the steadfast Edmund Treves, another Royalist.

Orlando Lovell is an enigma. He explains his absences as being on the King's business, but this is open to interpretation. He flits in and out of the story like the proverbial bad penny. Forever plotting and scheming, preying on the weak, selfish, indifferent to the plight of his wife and children, he is definitely the villain of the piece.

Kinchin Tews, a young girl from a family of scavengers, thieves and opportunists, who is neither for King nor Parliament, witnesses first-hand the atrocities committed by the Royalists in Birmingham. She flees the city for London where she hopes her life will be better. Kinchin is a survivor. 

These four characters form the nucleus of the novel, representing the common folk and the affect the war had on them. It is refreshing to have the view point from this angle rather than from the upper classes of society.

The action takes place mainly in London, Oxford and Birmingham. At times jumping from one city to another describing events taking place at the same point in time. This added vast tracts to the novel when perhaps a paragraph or two linking the events would have been all that was needed.

There is no doubt that Lindsey Davis researched this time period thoroughly by the amount of historical detail included, plus other facts and figures thrown in as if this was her one and only chance to write about this period in history. It was too much for me at times and I skimmed quite a few pages. At one stage I was tempted to give up, but after putting the book aside for a while I picked it up once more, admitting that I was interested in the characters and needed to know their fates.

It took me a long time to write this review as I wanted to be fair to Lindsey Davis and the huge effort she undertook to produce this work. There were aspects of this novel that I really liked, but for me, it would have been a great read without so much historical detail. It is definitely not one for the fainthearted: a very challenging read.

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