A rogue decides to settle down and begin looking for a wife. His original choice of a young, complacent girl quickly changes when he meets her older sister who has a scandalous past. Sounds like a pretty common historical romance theme, but in The Rebel, May McGoldrick adds depth to the plot and to the primary and secondary characters, creating an exciting and absorbing tale.
Sir Nicholas Spencer has decided that it is time for him to marry. He is envious of the happiness he sees in the lives of his friends, Lord and Lady Stanmore (whose story is told in The Promise.) After serving his country fighting in North America for several years, he returned to England and became known as a rogue. But under the rogue demeanor is a man of conscience. The cruelty of the British to the natives of North America appalled him. Since his return, he has quietly established a number of safe houses to help some of the throwaway children on London's streets. By marrying, he hopes to find a wife who will help with his charity work.
Nicholas meets Clara Purefoy during the Season and plans a visit to her parents' home in Ireland. Traveling with him are his mother and younger sister. On the way to the Purefoy's, his party discovers a bishop being tormented by a group of Irish rebels. He sends his mother and sister ahead and watches for an opportunity to help. He notices that while the group is tormenting and taking back the taxes the bishop has collected, they do not hurt the man. He decides to chase the leader of the group only to discover that the leader is a woman in disguise who proceeds to slash his arm and get away. He keeps this information to himself and is glad that he did when he later realizes that the rebel leader called Egan is really Clara's older sister, Jane.
Jane has been secretly helping the rebels every since the day nine years earlier when her father, the magistrate, hanged five rebels, including Connor, the man Jane loved. She does not speak to her father, dresses in black, and sneaks out to help the displaced Irish families. She is surprised that Nicholas does not reveal her secrets to her family or the British authorities. She is also intrigued, but feels guilty about her feelings for Nicholas since everyone, including her parents, think he plans to propose to her younger sister, Clara.
Jane and Nicholas are a good match. They both have a strong sense of decency and willingness to help those in need. Nicholas works his way into Jane's path as often as he can and manages to surprise her by not reacting like her vision of the typical British man. He steps back and lets her do what she must for her rebel causes by watching her back, but not trying to take over. Jane tries to resist him, but the pull between them is too strong. Jane’s sense of loyalty to her sister and, eventually, her not wanting to hurt Nicholas delay her showing true feelings for him a bit longer than I would have liked, but the reasons fit.
The action-packed cat-and-mouse games the rebels have to play with the new local magistrate are intense. The cruel history of the British in Ireland is brought to life through the telling of Jane's involvement with the rebels. I found it detailed enough to understand the history, but in no way did it slow the flow of the story. The description of the final confrontation was a bit confusing, but led to a satisfying end.
I particularly liked that very few of the characters were all good or all bad. For example, in many ways Jane's father is a disagreeable pig of a man, but some good characteristics are also shown. Clara, the "good" sister ends up showing a petty, jealous side that makes her much more human. Nicholas's mother and sister are given depth that makes them important parts of the story, not just window dressing.
There is much to discover in this exciting romance.
--B. Kathy Leitle