by Anita Davison, historical (2007)
Enspiren Press, $14.99, ISBN 978-0-9739502-7-4
Duking Days: Rebellion is a historical tale set amidst - what else? - the event that the book is titled after. The Duking Days Rebellion refers to the Duke of Monmouth's not-so-inspiring attempt to overthrow his uncle King James II and get himself crowned King in his uncle's place. Because James Scott, our Duke, was said to be King Charles II's illegitimate son, the Duke managed to gather about 6,000 or so ill-trained and ill-equipped "soldiers". The ragtag army managed to seize Somerset before the army of King James II put a stop to the nonsense a few weeks later and the King himself had the Duke of Monmouth beheaded for his dreams (or delusions, depending on how one looks at it) of grandeur.
That wasn't all - the King's army, under the "leadership" of one Judge Jeffreys who would no doubt consider the Spanish Inquisition too soft, went on a rampage and had hundreds of people butchered for their "treason" and several thousand more deported to the West Indies to work in sugar plantations. This story is set at about the time when the Duke begins making his retreat from King James II's army.
Meet our heroine, Helena Woulfe. Her father, Sir Jonathan, as well as her brother Aaron and her uncle Edmund were involved in the Duke's ill-fated rebellion and, as the story opens, the three men are MIA and Helena's family has to deal with the consequences of the men of the family being branded as traitors. While this story also features the plight of her various family members, it's mostly Helena's story as she deals with the aftermath and tries to put back the pieces of her life together. I have no idea why this is so, but Helena is fortunate in that her family still manage to have a roof over their heads instead of dangling from an executioner's noose, but still, there are plenty of pathos and angst to be had.
Let me warn you, folks, that this book is the first one in a projected series revolving around Helena's life. Therefore, there is no clean resolution, much less a happy ending, here. You will have to wait for the sequel and then some for that, I believe. Also, this is not a historical romance so you'll be disappointed if you open this book expecting a love story.
Having said that, I like Duking Day:s Rebellion. One of the reasons why I generally do not prefer to read historical fiction is because there is a tendency for the author to go on and on as if she's delivering a history lecture, as if historical accuracy is all that is needed to make a story enjoyable. Here, I love the fact that despite being a woman of her time, Helena displays emotions that are universal - I can definitely relate to her as the author conveys the poor dear's confusion, anger, grief, fear, and an assorted other turbulent emotions as Helena has to find a way to stay sane even as her mother falls apart. In a time when a woman is pretty much powerless without the male heads of the family to protect her, there is genuine suspense on my part as to whether Helena will find a silver lining of some sort. Ms Davison's biggest triumph in this story is to have a heroine that I can definitely relate to so that I become easily involved in her story.
Because I am far from being an authority in the history of the British isles, I can't say whether the author's historical details are accurate. I do know, however, that the story feels real enough, just as the emotions feel real to me.
My only complain is that there are several moments in this story where Helena and her family can be... well, "lucky" is the only way I can describe their fortune because they seem to get aid from out of nowhere. I've already mentioned earlier that I'm still not sure why Helena and her family are spared the worst despite the men of their family being clearly implicated as traitors. There is also a noble family that happily take Helena and her brother in when I'm pretty sure such a generous gesture can only bring the King's disapproval upon that family. If I am given a clearer picture as to why these turn of events can occur, they would seem less like contrivances that feel too much like deus ex machina to me.
Still, no matter. Duking Days: Rebellion is a pretty interesting and well-written story that has me at the edge of my seat most of the time.
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