Jonny Callahan is getting along just fine, thank you. Yes, he’s annoyed a local gang leader and been forced into hiding, but he’s found a nice gentleman to pay the bills so things are fine. As long as he stays off the streets of New Orleans. But Jonny doesn’t do well with restrictions, so he can’t resist sneaking out for a walk. He never expects that simple decision to drag him into the midst of a revolution.
Jonny is forcibly recruited to lure and assist in the kidnapping of a British captain and his airship. The task is easy enough because Jonny is more than charming. But when things go spectacularly wrong, Jonny and Captain Hamilton Arkwright are forced to work together in order to survive. Hamilton was born in the American colonies and despite his allegiance to Britain, there is no doubt he is a man pulled between two worlds. Jonny is alluring and it’s hard to stay mad at him for his part in the kidnapping. But war is coming and Hamilton and Jonny must decide which flag they will wield.
Raise the Red Flag was…different. On the positive side, it was an inventive re-imaging of the American Revolution had it occurred in 1867. The author does a good job of describing the burgeoning revolutionary forces and their reasons for launching their resistance movement against Britain. Yet aside from this the world building is rather limited. Familiar names and places like New Orleans and Chicago are used as settings, but it’s hard to understand how the revolution is happening and why it occurs when it does. We know why colonists are fighting, but not the reason for their timing. The book has a steampunk core and the idea of militarized airships and electric cars are well visualized and the reality of a mechanical world seems more established than other aspects of the book.
Jonny and Hamilton are hard to understand as characters. They are neither one dimensional nor fully formed, but creations that exist somewhere in between. Their actions and intent don’t always seem to match what we know of the characters, but at least part of this I chalked up to the chaos of the war they’ve been dragged into. Their romance is frankly ridiculous and goes from zero to true love in a matter of days. As a result, it utterly failed to resonate with me. There is no real concept of time passing in Raise the Red Flag. The action moves abruptly at one point from the revolution to a westward journey that could have taken months or years. We just don’t know. Aside from the issue of nebulous time, given how important the revolution is to the plot, the abandonment of this is jarring and out of sync with the rest of the story.
Maybe my biggest issue with Raise the Red Flag is one of language. Sometimes it works well and there are slang terms that feel natural. But other scenes are positively absurd because of language choices. And it happened often enough to catch my attention. An example: “…sweet primordial squeeze of unprotected innards.” Really? I didn’t find this sexy or hot. It’s awkward and at odds with the book’s otherwise decent writing. This kind of purple prose takes me right out of the action and further disconnects me from the characters involved.
Raise the Red Flag had a unique idea and partially executed it. Yet it falls prey to characters that lack definition, some unusual plot decisions, and language choices that fail to add anything to the book. Still fans of alternative history and steampunk may find something to enjoy.