Monday, February 7, 2011

Rebels and Traitors by Lindsey Davis

Gideon Jukes has what we would now call ‘issues’, with everything. His position in the family as a much younger, overlooked son, and the assumption he will follow his father and favoured elder brother into the grocery trade. Determined to anger his father by being as outrageous as possible, he dabbles with being an actor – guaranteed to put you outside polite society in the 1630’s.

Apprentices as a printer, Gideon becomes interested in politics and develops the same attitude to the self-serving and fickle King Charles as he does to his father and becomes a republican.  He joins the London Trained Band, choosing the Green Regiment simply because his brother is in the Blue Regiment.

Ms Davis’ historical research into life during the English Civil War is impeccable and I thoroughly enjoyed delving into the details of Roundhead uniform,  matchlocks and flintlocks, exactly why the bishops were treated with such suspicion  and how the King Charles managed to upset everyone, even the Scots when he was one himself.

When King Charles raises his standard to summon troops to battle Parliament, Gideon is there to defend the rights the common man. In the latter stages of the war, he encounters Juliana Lovell, whose Cavalier husband has vanished after  Naseby, leaving her to struggle to raise two young sons in poverty.

Gideon’s and Juliana’s stories were told as asides from the omniscient historical narrative and although they were interesting and intricate, I didn’t feel very involved and would have liked to have got inside their heads more rather than simply following their progress as an observer in  a history book. 

A great history book certainly, with plenty of material to keep me reading, and I learned a lot, but it wasn’t the usual work of fiction. Perhaps because Ms Lindsey tried to tackle a very complicated and far reaching, not to mention long drawn out period of English history that changed the country forever.

A very accomplished work, but I would have liked it to be Gideon and Juliana's story, or a text book - not both.