All the Tea in China proceeds with action over character development, but even the action is envenerating. Little drives the plot forward except the feeling our dear protagonist has gotten himself into quite a muddle. And so he muddles forward. To lack suspense as it does, it needs to be more humorous (the 17th century dialogue was forced rather than funny).
That said, you could give it to the 13-year-old boy of your Christmas list, assuming he’s already had the pleasure of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Kidnapped (which I remember being quite scary) and is permitted a few X-rated scenes.
This novel, besides being mildly historical, is hardly a typical choice of mine. The inside flap tricked me; it gave the the author Kyril Bonfiglioli kudos as a “groundbreaking satarist” in this “maritime romp.” So for that reason, and because the title reminded me of a song by The Magnetic Fields, I picked it up.
Clearly if I know the expression “all the tea in China,” I should also know “don’t judge a book by its cover” by now. For your listening pleasure, here is the better of the two, still with an ironic twinge but with a bit more heart: