Monday, June 07, 2010

Book review: The Rebellion of Jane Clarke, by Sally Gunning

In her third historical to feature a strong, independent woman of colonial Massachusetts, Sally Gunning moves from the quiet Cape Cod village of Satucket to the bustling city of Boston, a tinderbox of political dissent its citizens are itching to set alight.

In 1769, Jane Clarke, a sheltered young woman of twenty-two, is sent away to Boston after defying her father's wish to marry the man of his choosing. Taking up the role of caretaker for her elderly Aunt Gill at her home near the Custom House, Jane has difficulty adjusting to her abrupt change of surroundings: the unceasing clamor of the streets, the British soldiers quartered among the populace, and the odd behavior of her aunt's house servants. She also ponders her father's legal troubles, the result of a longstanding feud with his neighbors over millstream privileges. Noted lawyer John Adams, for whom Jane's brother Nate works as a clerk, represents her father in his suit, but does he think him innocent? And was Mr. Clarke really vicious enough to cut off the ears of his rival's horse? Jane doesn't know what or whom to believe.

When Aunt Gill makes it clear she’s not a loyalist like Jane’s father, Jane awakens to the revolutionary fervor around her and begins forming her own opinions. Tempers run high; native Bostonians upset over unfair taxes antagonize the Redcoats, and newspapers turn harmless incidents into patriotic propaganda. Working through her feelings for two different suitors, and weighing family loyalties against her own observations, Jane's rebellion soon becomes as much political as personal. Her closest allies prove to be a couple well versed in challenging society's expectations: her grandmother (stepmother's mother), Lyddie Freeman, and her lawyer/legislator husband, Eben.

Gunning describes daily life in pre-Revolutionary Boston with conviction and ease, interspersing historical characters with her fictional ones and including rich details that enhance the larger picture. Readers will find their modern surroundings falling away, to be replaced by scenes of an 18th-century city where people travel briskly on foot and by carriage, dine on plain pudding and greens, and read Richardson's Clarissa by candlelight. Though she writes with understated elegance, her story has a strong inner core. As the narrative sheds fresh light on the struggles of the little-known men and women who took part in America's founding, it paints period atmosphere in multiple shades of gray and exposes the realities behind the popular mythology of the American Revolution.

In this well-rendered portrait of a woman's coming of age amid turbulent times, Jane explores the real meaning of truth and home and comes to realize that family is defined by more than blood relationships. A historical novel of integrity and substance, The Rebellion of Jane Clarke is a fitting showcase for a heroine of similar mettle.


Sally Gunning's The Rebellion of Jane Clarke was published June 1st by William Morrow (HarperCollins) at $24.99. It can be read either as a standalone novel or as the latest entry in a series following The Widow's War and Bound. The links lead to my earlier reviews of both books.


  1. Sarah,
    This is the best review I have read to date, and this includes reviews offered up by major publications.
    Thank you.
    Sally Gunning

  2. Hi Sally,
    Thanks for stopping by, and I'm also very pleased by your comment! Colonial America is one of my favorite settings, and I've thoroughly enjoyed all of your historical novels - hope there will be more to look forward to.

  3. I've got this one and the one before it to read. They're coming up next on my TBR list. I really enjoyed The Widow's War. Thanks for the review!

  4. Lady Q, if you enjoyed Widow's War, I think you'd enjoy the other two as well. They all stand alone, but it can add to more understanding of the characters if they're read in order. (This was the case with me, anyway.)

  5. I love this period of history, not least because the culture of the time is what fostered the Declaration and the Constitution. Those great documents didn't just appear out of thin air!

  6. I have been meaning to read Sally Gunning since her first book came out. Thanks for the reminder!

  7. This sound really good! Thanks for bringing it to my attention.

  8. I read Bound and really enjoyed it. Looking forward to reading this as well.

  9. Thanks for your comments! This is my favorite series set during the Revolutionary War period and just beforehand.

  10. I loved this book too, most notably the ability of the author to portray a girl from the 1700's as though she lived around the corner. It's also so great to learn a bit of history that's not so commonly taught.

  11. This is a very well done review. From reading this review I'm even more excited now to read this book.