“Rollicking” is not a word I usually use, but it perfectly describes C.C. Humphreys’ new novel, Jack Absolute. The title character claims to be “the real” Captain Jack Absolute, the man who inspired the lovelorn hero of the same name in Richard Sheridan’s 18th century play, The Rivals. Humphreys, an actor, had brought Jack Absolute to life first on the stage and now on the page, imagining a backstory full of romance, adventures and intrigue.
The story is loads of fun, grounded in rich visual detail of the American Revolutionary War, specifically General Burgoyne’s campaign from Quebec to his ultimate defeat at Saratoga. Burgoyne has drafted Jack, and his native friend, Até, to help him recruit the members of the Five Tribes of the Iroquois as allies in the king’s cause. Jack has a dual mission: he is also the general’s personal spy, charged with learning the identities of rebel operatives known only as Cato and Diomedes. His love for a Loyalist New York debutante and a deadly grudge against him from a German count further complicate his mission.
Descriptions of Georgian-era theatre, both its personalities and productions, are painstakingly accurate. The duels, and there are many, are particularly well done. Humphreys’ background as schoolboy fencing champion and fight choreographer serve him well. Though the characterization lacks nuance, the story more than makes up for any shallowness of character. Jack Absolute has sex, love, jealousy, betrayal, loyalty and sacrifice. It’s a delightful read in the tradition of Patrick O’Brian and will appeal to anyone with a soft spot for swashbuckling romance. I can’t wait for the next book in the series.