Alfred Cartwright is something of an unwilling soldier. He never wanted to join Her Majesty’s Royal Marines, but after he was caught in a comprising position, Alfred’s father gave him no choice. So, for nearly a decade, Alfred’s been drifting, used to the work as Captain but without any heart for it. When his ship docks in Shanghai, Alfred heads onshore to explore. In a city park, he meets Zhang.
As a member of the Chinese army, associating with Alfred is borderline treason for Zhang, especially giving the rising tensions between the Chinese government, the Boxer rebels, and foreigners. But he finds the terribly English Alfred rather charming and, without much care for the danger, the two begin an illicit affair. Their love is a powerful thing, but it may not be strong enough to withstand the war that is coming. It could destroy them both and separate them forever.
Rebellion is a bit of a head scratcher. Parts of it are done excellently and really add to every level of the storytelling. And yet other parts left me underwhelmed and almost bored. Let’s start with Rebellion’s stronger aspects. The history is well done and the author does a good job of capturing the rising tension between the Boxers and the foreigners who seemed to be everywhere in China at that time. This push and pull is at the heart of Rebellion and the threat of rising violence hangs over Alfred and Zhang like some Sword of Damocles. The book is written with solid description and a smoothness to the prose that made it an easy, nearly effortless read, at least technically.
Zhang and Alfred are captivating, but distant from us. It’s hard to ever really relate to them because there seems to be a disconnect between them and the reader. Their relationship grows in chunks, but those chunks aren’t very descriptive in terms of providing either character much depth or heart. They weren’t single dimensional, but it felt impossible to really know them. So much of their relationship develops off page, over the passing of time, and I feel like readers really needed to see more of that aspect to fully appreciate their love affair.
The first part of Rebellion works really well, but the second half tends to fall apart somewhat. The action begins to feel rote, as if there are certain setups the author had to hit and the story falters rather than being folded in naturally. Finally, the book’s ending feels abrupt and rather jagged. It lacks the easy transitioning that the rest of the book possessed.
If you enjoy historical, Rebellion is a solid offering and the overall story is engaging. But it was hard to really feel connected to Alfred and Zhang and the plotting tends to unravel towards the latter half of the book. I think historical romance fans will probably enjoy this one more than others, but if you enjoy stories that are outside the mainstream, then I’d encourage you to give this one a try.