Title: An Infamous Army
Author: Georgette Heyer
Published: 1937, Doubleday
Category: Historical Fiction
On my first visit to my new public library I was happy to see that they have quite a selection of Georgette Heyers, including this fantastic 1937 edition of An Infamous Army. Look at that illustration! It's so great I took the trouble of scanning it for you all. It is a beautiful book and I don't really want to give it back. (Don't worry, I will. Really. I want to "lose" it, but I am resisting the temptation.) I especially love the tagline, "A Magnificent Novel of Waterloo." So grand!
An Infamous Army is an account of the weeks leading up to and including the Battle of Waterloo. It describes the mad social swirl of aristocrats and officers who gather in Brussles as Napoleon reorganizes his army for his last attempt to regain power. Wellington plays a role, as he manages to cobble together his "infamous army" from the mishmash of English, Belgian, Dutch, Prussian and French Royalist troops. Like all Heyers, we have a love story, of course. Barbara (Bab) Childe is a vivacious beauty, a young widow who delights in all sorts of outrageous and scandalous behavior. Colonel Charles Audley falls in love with her immediately, and though all his friends and relatives thinks he's much too nice a man for such a viper, he thinks he's the man to tame her. Bab agrees to marry Charles, but then chafes at the restriction and expectations put on her by her engagement. Soon, however, Bab's petty fears and uncertainties are put aside in the face of the seriousness of the battle that breaks out. She must wait in Brussles as Charles rides off to war.
This book surprised me---all the other Heyers I've read have been comedies of manners; if historical events are mentioned, they're just for flavor and tangential to the main plot. This book is really a detailed and (I believe) very accurate piece of historical fiction. It is leavened with a romantic thread, but a good portion of the book focuses on the battle. It is all well written, but I will admit to some boredom in a few places. It was all right when I was seeing a character I knew participating in the battle, but there was also a lot of General Whosit with his 3rd brigade doing whatever to the cavalry while the infantry formed lines ... yawn. I had to skim some sections. It did get very interesting at the end, and I think I did absorb a bit of history, which is always good thing. And Heyer does present engaging descriptions of some historical figures---Wellington and the Prince of Orange were my favorites.
The fictional characters are typical, wonderful Heyer. Bab is a bit of a Scarlet O'Hara--hard to like at first, but ultimately admirable. She is a spoiled beauty who we want to see accept, and be softened by, Charles's love. "The mischief of her upbringing, the hardening effect of a distasteful marriage, had vitiated a character of whose underlying worth [Charles] could still entertain no doubt. That the heart was unspoiled, he was sure..." Charles is fantastic; he manages Bab with wit and cunning, but he's also just a good and kind man who genuinely cares about her. And so very honorable! His loyalty and bravery during the battle make him quite a hero.
FYI, this is the third in what is sometimes called the Alastair trilogy---Bab is the grandchild of Mary and Dominic from Devil's Cub and the great-grandchild of the Leonie and Justin of These Old Shades.