Saturday, September 06, 2008

Book Review: An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

"No one could foretell what the future held; but everyone knew that these weeks might be the last of happiness. Except when news crept through of movement on the frontier, war was not much talked of. Talking of it could not stop its coming; it was better to put the thought of it behind one, and to be merry while the sun still shone." - page 209

It's 1815 and Napoleon, only recently escaped from Elba, has crowned himself Emperor again and marches on the United Kingdom of the Netherlands. The coalition forces to stand against the French are massing, led by the Duke of Wellington (aka "Old Hookey"). This news does little to dampen the spirits of the people of Brussels. Parties are constant with women pairing off with smart looking soldiers in scarlet. One of these women is Lady Barbara Childe, the beautiful but scandalous widow who cares for naught what people think of her. As of late she has set her sights on Colonel Charles Audley, an aides de camp to Wellington and ignores the whispers that she will ruin him. The drums of war rumble in the background while speculation grows as to whether the pair will endure.

The Good:

This book is courtesy of the Mini Book Blogger Expo so I'd like to thank them for giving me the opportunity to read this story.

I appreciated the fact that Georgette Heyer was well-known for her historical fiction and dedication to research. Her thoroughness in evident in both the dialogue and diction that were accurate to the period. It lends an air of authenticity to the characters and the world Heyer has created. Also, her descriptions are luscious in their detail. For exampleL "The lurid light, the flickering flashes in a cloud like a huge pall, the clatter in the sky as of a giant's crockery being smashed, made even the boldest quail, and sent many flying to their homes." - page 330/331

There was also a good deal of humour and witty banter, especially between the two main protagonists, Audley and Childe. Humour is difficult to write and I imagine it would be even more so in a book of historical fiction.

Something you may also notice is how well everyone is put together. The soldiers are mentioned seeming to be more concerned with the condition of their uniforms than the fact they may be dead by next week. Heyer contrasts this wonderful naivety with the truth and horror of war and how it affects her characters. "Some of the old soldiers lit pipes, and lay smoking and cracking joke, but every now and then there would be a sob from some man hit by a splinter, or a groan from a boy with a limb shattered by caseshot." - page 381

The Bad:

While I am somewhat familiar with the events of the Napoleonic Wars, I would have appreciated a summary at the start of the book as I was confused about the story's setting and how the various characters involved came to be in Brussels. Also, a map detailing the battle of Waterloo would have been much appreciated. There were several chapters dedicated to the battle but without the ability to place various characters and skirmishes, I was lost, confused and bored with the action.

The book was difficult to get into as a glut of characters are introduced with some of them calling each other "brother" and "sister" when they are merely in laws. A variety to titles and ranks were thrown about and it would have been nice to have a list of rankings or real life characters at the back of the book that I could refer to.

Also, the word "infamous" was repeated several times throughout the book. While it wasn't overly repetitive I still found the mention of it grating as it seemed to be drumming home the issue of Wellington's army when it's already clearly stated in the title.

The Ugly:

Somebody find Eli Wallach.

Rating: 3.5/5

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