Rebellion in Ulster

Rebellion in Ulster - Angela Koenig The Refractions series is centered on the life and times of Jeri O'Donnell. Originally from South Boston, Jeri has managed to claw her way out of her tough, gang and drug-infested Southie neighborhood and land a Rhodes scholarship to Oxford, thanks to her photographic memory and linguistic abilities, among other talents. A tragic turn of events while on vacation to Ireland sees Jeri implicated in a crime she didn't commit. She is incarcerated in an all-women Armagh prison in Northern Ireland, which is where we find her at the start of the book. IRA members inside Armagh lose no time in attempting to recruit Jeri for their cause. But Jeri is more interested in the aloof, mysterious and intriguing Arkadia O'Malley. However, as her confinement stretches to several seasons with no trial and hence no resolution in sight, Jeri starts to identify more with the seemingly ordinary women who've given up their lives for the cause...

Possible minor spoilers...

When I first came across this obscure little book titled 'Rebellion in Ulster' way back in 2014, no one I knew had read it or planned to read it and no one was talking about it. There were a handful of good reviews on Amazon does every other lesfic book. The blurb piqued me, but the obscurity meant it sat way back in my reading queue. And so it was with very little expectations that I started it a full year later. But the timing fortuitously turned out to be much better for my reading enjoyment because I was able to go straight to Book 2. In hindsight, I think I wouldn't have enjoyed 'Rebellion' as much if it were a stand-alone read, because, being the hopeless romantic that I am, it would have left me terribly frustrated since Jeri's search for love and acceptance encompasses both books.

The first third of 'Rebellion' is set in a stifling, soul-sucking prison. I was immediately impressed by the author's depiction of the place, the denizens, the prison power plays, but most specially by that prison-oddity, the woman with the piercing blue eyes and hawk-like stare, Arkadia. She is, in my book, one of the most intriguing and unforgettable characters in all of lesfic. She's an 'old soul'. But not just in the usual metaphorical sense. She may literally be one. As in centuries or maybe several millenia old. This is where the book occasionally touches on the spiritual and metaphysical. In the hands of a lesser author, this can turn out pretty hokey. But it's amazingly well done here--the concepts of old Irish gods, multiple lifetimes, love beyond life--not anything fantastical or overtly magical, but a subtle and subconscious awareness, and almost imperceptible in the din of everyday life. But it is there. And it underpins the romantic narrative of the series.

The latter part of the book finds the new recruit Jeri being sent all over Europe for training missions, and later on, for actual ones. The thriller elements are excellently paced and tightly written, but what makes the book stand out from the rest is it's humanity. The action set-pieces are like windows into the journey of Jeri's soul--from fiesty, ambitious, full-of-life youth, to bitter and indifferent prisoner, to committed and idealistic revolutionary, to disillusioned and revolted foot soldier. The book doesn't shy away from the questions engendered by the moral quicksand that the lead character sinks into little by little after every mission. The sensitivity and depth of the writing is way beyond most lesfic I've read. Why isn't this book more popular? It's most likely the subject matter. In this jittery post-9/11 world, reading about planting bombs in public places stokes our most primal fears. There's also the perceived lack of romance in books that tackle such subjects. But in this case, that's not true. There are some very erotic romantic interludes. Jeri may be a loner, but she still needs love. Which brings us to the supporting characters, all of whom are fully fleshed out, vividly drawn, and invariably, candidates for Jeri's affection. ;)

I'm unabashedly promoting this book, because, well there's more to lesfic than the usual, done-to-death, endless variations on the romance theme that's just everywhere...and there's very rare lesfic that's thought-provoking AND thrilling AND angsty AND erotic. To fully enjoy the tale, I think it's best to commit to at least the first two books in the series. Because hey, we all need our HEA.