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REVIEW: Jack Absolute by CC Humpreys

“It’s 1777 when Captain Jack Absolute becomes a sensation throughout London. This news comes as a shock to the real Jack Absolute when he arrives in England after four months at sea. But there’s little time for outrage before he finds himself dueling for his life. Right when he thinks he’s finally won, he is forced to flee London by the quickest means possible, becoming a spy in the American Revolution. From the streets of London, to the pivotal battle of Saratoga, to a hunt for a double agent in Philadelphia, this novel marks the exhilarating beginning of an epic historical series and a character you won’t soon forget.”

Dear Mr. Humphreys,

When I initially saw first the cover of this book and then read the blurb for it, I immediately requested the arc from Netgalley. I adore books set in the 18th century and especially those set in the American Revolution – which seems to have fallen from favor over the past 10-15 years – or those that look as if they will be swashbuckler-ish. This book should have rung my bell in all the best ways. Unfortunately I find myself willing to put it aside for a number of reasons, many of which I acknowledge are personal and not the fault of the book.

Jack-AbsoluteI must have been scanning the blurb through rose colored glasses and reading into it what I wanted to find. What I was expecting of a hero described elsewhere as the “007 of the 1770s” was more romantic town-centered daring do-ish romp than what I found 1/3 of the way into the story. I thought the setting would be more in London and Philadelphia instead of on board ship and in the wilds of upstate New York. Jack is forced to flee London after a duel with a character who strikes me as one of these types who will dog Jack through the story. I use the verb “dog” for a reason as the man also comes off as a rabid OTT villain – a type I dislike and try to avoid in my reading. The fact that Jack has strong ties to the Mohawk tribe and can rough it better than some of the warriors of the tribe came as a surprise. It also brings into the story the tragic effect the War had on the Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy. The rents in the fabric that would eventually split the Confederacy apart are mentioned early on and I just wasn’t up to watching this happen as I find it too depressing. I also wasn’t excited at the prospect of seeing the terrible way the war played out on the frontier. Though I have read books featuring it
( Independent Heart ) the tone here was feeling especially grim.

Another thing bothered me that I wasn’t expecting. Jack is obviously a British hero working on the side of the Crown. I knew that and was actually looking forward to seeing his side and POV on the war. Jack is intelligent, competent and has a high respect for the Colonials beside whom he fought in the French and Indian War. He wants to bring the Colonies back in the fold as brothers rather than scolded children. But he’s dismayed and handicapped by his fellow British officers and the Loyalists surrounding him. Despite being a patriotic American, I actually found myself sympathizing with the poor man as he was driven towards banging his head against a brick wall and tearing his hair out due to the incompetent and or drunken knobs with whom he was working. This aspect of the story seemed like it was going to do a number on my blood pressure.

The final nail in the coffin is a subplot dealing with a secret society. I hate secret societies. No, let me go further and say I loathe them as plot devices and avoid them if possible. It’s one reason I seldom read romantic suspense novels as they are often chock full of uber black ops groups. I did keep reading far past the point when the Illuminati are first mentioned but it gnawed at me each time they came up and finally I tossed in the towel.

At some future date, I might very well go back and attempt to finish this book. The writing is well done and the plot seems to be solid even if not to my taste. Some things would always bother me but perhaps the grimness might not be such a factor to me as it is now. Some personal issues in my life right now are leading me to put aside darker books for the time being – something that is certainly not the fault of this book. Readers interested in an intelligent and flawed anti-hero in a book set on the brutal frontier during the American Revolution need look no further.

~Jayne

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Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.

22 Comments

  1. Jennifer Lohmann
    May 05, 2013 @ 11:29:26

    Jayne,

    I’ve read all three books in this series and this is my favorite. I can see all of your problems with it (especially the secret society, which is silly and doesn’t get any better as the book goes on) and one of them is a reason I like this book so much. Reading about the American Revolution from the British perspective was fascinating. This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels to recommend to library patrons and I always stick this book on the 4th of July display (though my sense of humor may not always be appreciated). I don’t remember so much grimness to it, mostly the fantastic character of Jack. I’ll have to go back and reread it to see if it strikes me differently.

    If anyone else is interested in the books, this is the first, but the other two are prequels rather than sequels.

    Also, I was a little curious that this was on NetGalley. According to Goodreads, I read it in 2008.

    And a book recommendation–I’ve not read it, but the picaresque novel Johnny One-Eye by Jerome Charyn is also set during the Revolutionary War and is supposed to be very fun (maybe less grim?). Looking at the reviews again makes me think I should make more of an effort to read it.

  2. Donna Thorland
    May 05, 2013 @ 12:39:07

    I’ve heard this book mentioned in the same breath with mine–but I think that might be the overlap in historical characters and not the tone. I’m still eager to check it out. Maybe it is on Netgalley as a re-release?

  3. Jayne
    May 05, 2013 @ 13:01:05

    @Donna Thorland: It’s definitely a rerelease but then I’ve been reading a lot of those lately including one by Jill Mansell and the Elizabeth Chadwick book I reviewed in March.

  4. Jayne
    May 05, 2013 @ 13:06:58

    @Jennifer Lohmann: LOL, I love your sense of July 4th humor! And I’ll check into the Charyn book too as I do love this time period.

  5. DS
    May 05, 2013 @ 13:59:11

    This sounds like something I might like.

    While others complain about a decrease in historical romance I have noticed an increase in interesting historical fiction– some mystery, some alternative/fantasy, some straight.

    Agree about the secret society stuff though. It seems to be popular British trope. Even in modern set British police procedurals the Masons keep showing up as a sinister force.

  6. Jayne
    May 05, 2013 @ 15:13:15

    @DS: You’re right about the increase in historical fiction. I do like it but miss the variety we used to have of historical romance. I also agree about the secret society stuff. I remember this figuring in “The Fallen Angels” written by Bernard Cornwell as Susannah Kells.

  7. Jane
    May 05, 2013 @ 18:16:34

    @DS – I was wonddering about that myself. Are historical romance readers migrating to these historical fiction books because of the meatier, historical dramas?

  8. Donna Thorland
    May 05, 2013 @ 22:42:00

    @Jane:

    An interesting conversation about variety in historicals going on here: http://www.likesbooks.com/blog/?p=9751

  9. Patricia Eimer
    May 06, 2013 @ 07:01:21

    This sounds really good. I’m sorry you couldn’t finish it.

  10. Lenore Riegel
    May 06, 2013 @ 07:15:26

    @Jennifer Lohmann:

    How kind of you to reference Jerome Charyn’s “Johnny One-Eye” in your discussion. Charyn is a dear friend and I of course want everyone on earth to read his historical fiction – he has a new one in the works about Abraham Lincoln. Please write me at [email protected] and I’ll send a complimentary copy or ebook to Jennifer, Jayne, Jane, DS and Donna. I call it “hysterical fiction” but it is historically accurate as to the George Washington’s presence in, and the critical importance of New York during the revolutionary war. While writing 50+ books of many genres, Charyn taught history and film in Princeton, Stanford, Rice and now American University of Paris.

  11. brandy
    May 06, 2013 @ 15:52:35

    This actually sounds like something I’d really enjoy. Thanks for the review!

    @Jennifer Lohmann:

    This is one of my favorite historical fiction novels to recommend to library patrons and I always stick this book on the 4th of July display (though my sense of humor may not always be appreciated).

    Heh. Love it!

  12. Susan
    May 06, 2013 @ 17:05:17

    I don’t know about the secret society bit (altho it’s not one of my pet peeves), but the rest of it sounds pretty interesting. I’m a fan of Dewey Lambdin’s Alan Lewry books, and one of the things I find particularly interesting are those books that include Alan’s British perspective of the Revolution. I may have to try Jack Absolute and see if it works better for me than it did for you. :-)

  13. Susan
    May 06, 2013 @ 17:07:30

    Darn–just checked and none of the Absolute books seem to be available in digital. I’ll stick ‘em on the wishlist for now.

  14. Jayne
    May 06, 2013 @ 19:05:05

    @Susan: Susan, what format are you looking for? Kobo has all 3 in epub and it looks like there is a Nook version of this book but not the other two in the trilogy.

  15. pamela1740
    May 06, 2013 @ 20:35:37

    @DS:

    @Donna Thorland:

    I’ve been following these discussions too, especially at AAR, and here http://evangelineholland.com/books/the-trouble-with-historical-romance/ — and as it’s all been (re)percolating this week, I’ve been thinking a lot about how much more “regular” historical fiction I’ve been reading in the last several years. Which is why I have a copy of JACK ABSOLUTE in my TBR pile, and I’m thrilled to see this review which makes me feel less bad about the fact that I haven’t been able to get past the first 50 pages. I’ve been sort of steeping myself in fiction set in 18th c. America, and I’m still reading plenty of historical romance, but my love of this particular period is pushing me to read outside the romance genre again (I read non-romance historical fiction a lot when I was younger). So I agree with you — there does seem to be a great deal more diversity and quantity of new historical fiction.

  16. SonomaLass
    May 06, 2013 @ 22:00:00

    Jayne, thanks as always for a review that helps the reader decide whether this might be to her taste, by making is clear what was not to yours. This review does more to make me want to read the book (secret society and all) than a squeeing positive review would ever do.

  17. Historical Romance – Lament, or Let it Die? | Badass Romance
    May 07, 2013 @ 13:00:38

    […] Author’s  Review of Jack Absolute.  (Interesting discussion in the Comments here, about romance readers reading more straight […]

  18. Jayne
    May 08, 2013 @ 13:42:05

    @SonomaLass: My pleasure. If you like it, remember that there are two other books which Jennifer Lohmann says are prequels to it.

  19. Susan
    May 09, 2013 @ 22:25:27

    @Jayne: I looked at Amazon–I could be missing something, but I’m not seeing any of them (ebooks). Eh, maybe it’s a sign. It’s not like I actually need another book right now.

  20. Jayne
    May 10, 2013 @ 06:48:59

    @Susan: LOL, maybe it is a sign. It is available from B&N and Kobo. That’s weird that Amazon doesn’t have it…

  21. Laura Vivanco
    May 10, 2013 @ 09:09:53

    Captain Jack Absolute is the hero of Richard Sheridan’s The Rivals (1775). Is there any connection between that play and this novel?

  22. Jayne
    May 10, 2013 @ 09:16:16

    @Laura Vivanco: Yes there absolutely is. In the book Jack Absolute is a real person and friend of Richard Sheridan. When Jack’s been gone for years in India and everyone thinks him dead, Sheridan appropriates Jack’s name to use as a character in his play. Jack is none too pleased to find this out when he suddenly arrives back in London.

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