Disclaimer: The author is a friend. I have done my best to give an unbiased review.
A shadow lies over the marshes of Dumnonia.
A man moves in the darkness. He is a whisper, a legend. He is the Dark Dumnonii… and he’s looking for revenge.
In the year 814 AD Egbert, King of Wessex, ravaged and conquered Dumnonia, but there were some who resisted. Eleven years on and the Britons refuse to be subdued. Now the king has returned and the rebels are waiting.
Amongst them is Caligo, a man of darkness, a shadow in the marsh, and he is determined to take back that which was stolen.
Dark Rebel is the second tale of the Aekhartain to have a historical setting (or the third, if you count Be With Me separately from Unbound and Free). Several hundred years have passed since Demero lived in these lands and things are very different now. The Britons have been pushed west by the Saxons, many fleeing over the ocean. But some are not content to run.
Caligo has made a name for himself as a scout, spy and assassin. While his sister fights for future generations as the Briton rebels’ leader, Caligo is in it purely for revenge. The Saxons have taken his home and killed his family, and he is determined to make them pay. Unsurprisingly, Caligo is not much of a people person. He prefers to work alone and is abrupt to the point of rudeness. However, he does have his redeeming features. There is a great yearning in Caligo to belong, and his relationship with his sister is warm, if distant. He may not be inclined to show affection to the people around him, but he certainly does to the animals in his care. I particularly enjoyed his relationship with his buzzard, Noctis.
Much like Unbound and Free, Dark Rebel is divided into two parts. The first focuses on Caligo’s rebellion. This part didn’t gel for me quite as well as the second half. Caligo finds himself with the chance to observe the movements of the King of Wessex, perhaps even assassinate him. To that end, he and a group of eight other rebels travel to where the King is encamped. I feel like the size of the group was a bit of a problem, both for the nature of the mission and from a story perspective; it took some concentration to keep track of who everyone was. This is perhaps complicated somewhat by the fact that Caligo himself doesn’t connect much with them. He warms up a bit as the story progresses, but mostly he keeps himself separate.
I also wasn’t sold on his instant attraction to Beibhinn. It comes to make a kind of sense as the story progresses, but it had little emotion or heat to it. Instead, it seemed to get lost in everything else that was going on. The ending of the story had a pretty big impact, but I feel it could have been even greater if something more had been made of this attraction.
The second half of the story focuses more on the Aekhartain connection. This is where the story really starts to hit its stride. We reunite with the familiar characters of Shaiel and Demero, whose banter offer something stronger to connect to than Caligo’s sullenness and desire for revenge. Despite their friendly faces, they are not shown without their flaws. In their arguments, Caligo has some excellent points, while Shaiel and Demero are shown to be perhaps a little too laissez-faire. I loved this balance in the characters’ depiction.
The ending of the story does an excellent job of bringing the two halves together in a suitably dramatic way. There was enough feeling of resolution, even as the way is left open for the sequel.
Overall, I’d say Dark Rebel is not the strongest of the Tales of the Aekhartain and, while it could conceivably stand alone, readers will get more out of it if they have read the previous stories–particularly Unbound and Free. Nevertheless, it is an excellent addition to the series and adds a nice layer of complexity.