Wednesday, October 17, 2007

An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

IN THE SUMMER OF 1815, with Napolean Bonaparte marching down from the north, Brussels is a whirlwind of parties, balls and soirees. In the swirling social scene surrounding the Duke of Wellington and his noble aides de camp, no one attracts more attention than the beautiful, outrageous young widow Lady Barbara Childe. On their first meeting, dashing Colonel Charles Audley proposes to her, but even their betrothal doesn't calm her wild behavior. Finally, with the Battle of Waterloo raging just miles away, civilians fleeing and the wounded pouring back into the town, Lady Barbara discovers where her heart really lies, and like a true noblewoman, she rises to the occasion, and to the demands of love, life and war...

Just under a year ago I went to the local romance bookstore, and was talking to the girl who worked about authors she recommended. After going through a few different options, she asked me whether I had ever read Georgette Heyer? My response was no, but that I wasn't overly keen to try. After she gushed for about 10 minutes about how fabulous Heyer was, I ended up walking out of the store having bought Venetia. I still haven't read it.

It wasn't so much that I wasn't interested in reading Heyer's books really. It was more that there were so many that I wasn't really sure where to start, and there were so many other books that I KNEW that I wanted to read. Then I was offered An Infamous Army and I figured that it would be just the encouragement I needed to try this author, and then one way or the other I would know whether I wanted to read more or not!

Whatever it was that I was expecting when I started reading this book, it's not what I got! I will confess that I was expecting lots of bodice heaving, and purple prose, but instead what I got was a lovely romance which was set against the much larger portrayal of the Battle of Waterloo. The detail in the book about the movement of troops and the actual battles was impressive, but yet not so overdone that it became monotonous and boring. The colour and pageantry of the various parts of the army that was massing to face Napoleon was impressively depicted and the almost crazed atmosphere of the English in Brussels who seemed to be partying like there was no tomorrow was very finely tuned. The fact that there literally was no tomorrow for many of them only adds to the poignancy of the novel.

The action of the story moved from the ballroom, to the salon, to reviewing the troops and trips on picnics to the countryside adeptly, and yet with all the details about the looming battle and the actual battle, Heyer didn't forget to develop the blooming relationship between our hero and heroine.

I have to confess that at the very beginning of the book I was somewhat concerned at where the journey was going to lead. When Colonel Charles Audley, who works on the staff of the Duke of Wellington, enters into a crowded ballroom and sees the beautiful but somewhat notorious Lady Barbara Childe he instantly falls in love and before too long she is in love with him. Almost immediately, Charles proposes to Babs and she accepts, much to the shock of much of Brussels, including his sister, and to the delight of the gossip mongers, for whom Babs has long been a favourite talking point. Love at first sight....not really my cup of tea.

Babs give Charles a bit of a run around, but her true strength comes to the fore when it is needed as the battle rages. And in the end, it turns out that she is not the only one in her family who might have shocking secrets.

And yet, despite that initial reservation, gradually I found myself fascinated by all the characters, including our lovers. Many of the characters are actual historical figures who were involved in the Battle of Waterloo, and I found myself searching the web looking for websites related to the battle to try and figure out things like exactly how far out of Brussels is Waterloo. I think that if a historical novel that you are reading prompts you to go and find out more information about the events you are reading about, then it's a pretty good sign.

With lively characters, plenty of historical details and a good love story, this is one Heyer that I am definitely glad that I found time to read, and I will be reading more!

Rating 4/5

Thanks to Sourcebooks for the review copy of this book!

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