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Rebel is another of Bernard Cornwell's Historical novels, this time set in America during the time of the American Civil War, and is the first part of a new series.
The year is 1861 and Nathaniel Starbuck falls in love with the wrong woman and abandons his family in the North to follow a band of travelling actors to whom she is attached. When he is bitterly rejected by this woman, he finds himself at odds with his family and so travels to seek work with the father of a friend he met at Seminary. Unfortunately trouble is brewing in these uncertain times and eccentric Confederate supporter, Wayne Faulconeer is gathering an army to help figt oppression from The North. And it is not long before Nathaniel finds himself on the wrong side of the war, fighting his own kin in the war that split America in two and had severe ramifications for its future....
I seem to have real problems with Cornwell. I always want to like his books but find it increasingly difficult to do so on most occasions! I really enjoyed his GrailQuest series but everything else by him I have read just leaves me cold. This is no exception.
Much like when I attempted to read Gone With The Wind, I find this novel to be largely hot air! There is far too much preamble for me before we get anywhere near any fighting and I found the characters, without exception, to be dull and uninspiring! They came across, to me, to be very two-dimensional and without much depth and I find it a hard slog to want to continue. I certainly could not invest in reading any more of the series!
I really wanted to enjoy this but found my way hampered at every turn. Explanations for why war erupted in the first place are here very vague and I think unless you have a greater knowledge than me of even ts which pre-empted this American crisis, then, like me, you may feel a little lost. There is no doubt that Cornwell has done his research and the book is very authentic in its approach and its manner but it just didn't do a lot for me!
Overall, I found this to be a very dull book that takes too long to get going. I almost abandoned this novel half-way through but persevered through pure stubborness. I really wished at its end that I hadn't have bothered!
I guess I was first drawn to Bernard Cornwell's novels by watching the hugely popular series of television films staring Sean Bean as Sharpe. As I'd enjoyed watching the series and enjoy reading I guessed (correctly as it happens) that I would find the books an enjoyable way of spending a few hours. Having read the complete Sharpe series I decided to move onto the Starbuck Chronicles of which this, Rebel, is the first of four books.
As the conflict between the Northern and Southern states explodes into the American Civil War, the son of Northern preacher and abolitionist Elial Starbuck finds himself in the dangerous position of being the hands of the Southern mob in Richmond, Virginia. Saved by his connection with a wealthy landowner Nathaniel Starbuck (or Nate to his friends) finds himself strangely drawn to the rebel cause .
If you want to know anymore of the storyline then you'll need to read the book for yourself, but I will share a few of my feelings on reading the book. The book is as well written as I had expected, with plenty of action, a little love interest and confrontation between Starbuck and his comrades, but I couldn't help but feel that the whole book was a little familiar, it was almost as if I had read it before.
As with the Sharpe series, Cornwell seems to be totally in his element when writing about an officer who is neither liked nor fully accepted by the majority of his messmates. While there are a few differences between the character and circumstances of Starbuck and Sharpe, they are very similar. It's almost as if Cornwell has simply transplanted Sharpe into the American civil war. Where Sharpe was not accepted because he wasn't born an officer, Starbuck is not accepted because of his family and their obvious loyalties. Similarly, as Sharpe had found himself allies among a few of his fellow officers, so Starbuck finds himself a few loyal friends, there's even a loyal sergeant who looks like he might be taking the place of Harper. I'm sure you get the picture without me going any further into the similarities.
I'm not saying that I didn't enjoy reading the book, because I did, I found the characters well drawn, Starbuck was likeable simply because he wasn't perfect, while other characters were detestable, it's just that it did follow a very safe formula. I almost expected a few familiar faces to pop up and wouldn't have been surprised if Hawkswill (the best antagonist of the Sharpe series) had made an appearance. And I suppose that is my greatest criticism of the book, that I felt that maybe Cornwell should have strayed at least a little from the tried and tested formula that served him well in the past.
Now I realise that this review is heavily biased by the fact that I've read the Sharpe books, and it is unfortunate that perhaps I would have enjoyed Rebel far more if I had not. But that is the way of the world, and that even though I am biased I can still state that I enjoyed reading this book and if you enjoyed the Sharpe series and don't mind or are even comforted by the familiar plotline and characters then I'm sure you'll enjoy this. If, however, you did not enjoy the Sharpe books or had found them repetitive by the end, then this is not the book for you.
Do I have any other criticisms? Well actually no, even though this is the first in a series of four books, it is self-contained; there is a definite feeling of all the different threads being tied up by the last page. But it does still feel as if I want to know what happens to Starbuck next, so I will be reading Copperhead, the next in the series as soon as it's available in my local library.
If you have not read the Sharpe books then you would probably enjoy this if you enjoy, historical fiction and action. Oh did I mention that this is a historical novel, well it is, and one thing Cornwell does do very well is history and especially where well-documented battles are involved. Cornwell does seem to have the knack of bringing history alive in a way that textbooks can never manage. Battle scenes are suitably gory, but it's more the way that the lives of his characters are intertwined in the action that makes you want to know what happens next. One group of people I would say these books are not suitable for is children, for although the references to sex and violence are less graphic than in some of the Sharpe books, they are still there.
Nathaniel Starbuck is a rebel, a young Yankee fighting for the South against the North in the American Civil War. It is the summer of 1861 when Nate arrives in Richmond, Virginia, suddenly to be rescued from a lynch mob by Washington Faulconer who is raising his own Legion in the interests of the Confederacy. Personal and political loyalties are tested to the limit, and Nate quickly learns to fight in his own interests and those of his adopted country and friends while the United States of America tears itself violently, unforgivingly apart in the first bloody battles of the Civil War.