Monday, September 24, 2007

'An Infamous Army' by Georgette Heyer

ISBN: 1402210078
Format: Paperback, 436pp
Publisher: Sourcebooks, Incorporated
Price: $14.95

An Infamous Army, originally published in 1937, is centered around the famous battle of Waterloo, the final battle of the Napoleonic Wars. This historical novel gives you an amazingly detailed account of the final battle in which Wellington and his allied forces lost 22,000 of their troops and the French losses totaled over 25,000. Leading up to that point Georgette Heyer (1902-1974), author of over 50 novels set in the Regency period, paints a vivid picture of life in Brussels, a city that is just a few miles away and living life to the fullest with the threat of war looming on the horizon.

The novel takes its title from a famous quote of Wellington’s, “I have an infamous army; very weak and ill-equipped, and a very inexperienced staff.” But despite this crusty remark the battle was won, and the war was won with this infamous army of his.

Lady Barbara Childe, Bab for short, is as gorgeous as she is wicked. A widow known to be rather infamous herself, Bab is referred to as ‘the incomparable, the dashing, the fatal Barbara’ because wherever she goes she leaves a trail of broken hearts in her wake. But despite this, or because of it, Colonel Charles Audley, Wellington’s aid-de-camp, falls madly in love with her at first sight and soon proposes.

With the backdrop of the coming war Bab and Charles announce their engagement to the disbelief of many, including Charles’s sister Judith, though it is not a surprise to her husband, Lord Worth. As the weeks pass and Napoleon marches closer, Bab cannot seem to drop the wild aspects of her personality. She does everything she wishes, everything that exposes herself and her newly betrothed Charles to gossip, including almost breaking up the marriage of the close friend of the Worth family.

But Lady Barbara, as the reader and Charles know, has a good heart beneath all her wild behavior. She is a strong character, likable and vibrant. Charles in turn is everything you would expect of an English gentleman and the interaction between the two is delightful. When the battle finally does break out, Bab rises to the occasion, doing everything she can helping wounded men and showing a strength and gentleness of character you always knew was there.

From the beginning to the end, what makes An Infamous Army so easy to read is the flawless style. Each moment is brought out and shown to the reader in all it’s brutal glory. Every episode is mesmerizing: The men leaving a ball when the news arrives that Napoleon is just a few miles away, the soldiers forming their ranks and calling out their battle cry, the sound of the cannons heard for the first time by the residents of Brussels, and even the small conflicts between the characters as they must learn to live with or without each other.

Never has history been more exciting than within the pages of An Infamous Army. The social drama with its romance lightens the almost overwhelming details of which general commands which regiment, troop movements, and battle strategies. The final chapters dedicated to the battle itself are horrific as well as heart-wrenching as the deaths of the soldiers and their horses are described. I have never read a better or more powerful piece of historical fiction.


Sevenine said...

Your wonderful review of it reminds me of Tim O'Brien's "The Things They Carried", mainly in the detail you describe of the preparations and battles they go through. I'm not much for historical tales, but this sounds like a good book. I may check into it myself.

Katie said...

This one was very, VERY good. I usually don't read things of this sort. I'm not big into the history of famous battles and famous figures in history, like you. But the romance, which by the by is a little bittersweet, lightens the tone and makes the pages turn quickly.