Forced to flee England after a duel, young scamp Jack Absolute becomes a soldier as he fights with the British army during the French and Indian War, in this prequel to Humphreys’ Jack Absolute series.
Jack takes full advantage of all the seedy delights available to a young student in 18th-century London. He spends late nights carousing and gambling with his friends, and, when not attempting to woo his young French tutor, he finds time to pursue an affair with another man’s kept mistress. Eventually, though, a series of dangerous misadventures find Jack engaged in a duel with his rival and cousin, Craster, while his father, Sir James Absolute, is compelled to duel with Jack’s mistress’s powerful lover in order to preserve the family honor. In the aftermath of the duel, Jack and his father are forced to flee, Sir James to Germany and Jack to Canada, to deliver messages to the British commander in chief, Gen. Wolfe. Jack arrives just in time to help Wolfe take Quebec from the French, but as the battle winds down, he is captured by a group of Native Americans who have allied themselves with the French. Enslaved and held prisoner in the wilds of Canada, Jack must find a way to escape and then make his way through the wilderness to rejoin the British army. The hero Jack Absolute started life as a character in Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s 1775 play The Rivals, and Humphreys, who once played Jack onstage, transformed him into a swashbuckling soldier and spy in his previous novel, Jack Absolute (2003), to which the current book is a prequel. While the plot, being fairly standard for the genre, yields no big surprises, the action sequences more than compensate. The dialogue is especially well-done, full of wit and style that feel true to the period. There is enough period detail to help draw the reader into the time but not so much as to be distracting.
Welcome and well-done back story for Humphreys’ likably roguish character.