Jan 182015
 

Silhouettes of a man and woman in Regency dress against a background of the number 80
The next "Regency" novel which Georgette Heyer published after Regency Buck was An Infamous Army. But it was a radical departure from her first Regency-set novel. Today, romance author Shannon Donnelly explains how An Infamous Army differs from Regency Buck as well as how it is connected to it, and other historical novels in Heyer’s oeuvre.

We invite our visitors to share their impressions of this important Heyer novel in comments to this post.



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Cover with partical image of a lady in a Regency era gown.

Georgette Heyer’s An Infamous Army was first published in 1937, and the book is not everyone’s cup of tea. Heyer is renowned for her light-hearted Regency romances, but in this book war takes center stage for the second half of the book.

The title, of course, comes from a letter written by Wellington, and that should tell you much about the book. "I have an infamous army, very weak and ill-equipped, and a very inexperienced staff." And yet he won the day with what turned into very much a slug fest between the French and the English, with nothing of brilliant strategy and much of just hanging on, French onslaughts, and finally the Prussians turning the day.

For history buffs, the book is fantastic. Heyer’s attention to detail and to research brings to life the battle of Waterloo in vivid and compelling details. Heyer was even invited to lecture at the Royal Military Academy Sandhurst due to her exhaustive research into every detail of the battle, the regiments, and vital decisions made. The writing is excellent and if you want to learn how to write action scenes, this book is certainly one to look at closely. There is also the added bonus of picking up with characters from other books. The heroine is Lady Barbara Childe, granddaughter of Dominic, Duke of Avon who appeared in These Old Shades and Devil’s Cub. We also meet up with characters from Regency Buck, and Captain the Hon. Charles Audley from that story becomes the love interest for the difficult Lady Barbara. However, romance is pushed to the background once the battle takes off. Heyer herself said that every word she attributed to Wellington was either spoken or written by him. But battles bring with them loss, death, and hardship. This is not a light, fluffy read.

Lady Barbara, too, is a difficult heroine. A wealthy widow, she is sharp, cynical, rebellious and aware of her flaws. She can be difficult to like at times—but she also knows she has been born into status and cannot leave it. In some ways, she is not well matched with Charles, who seems a much more positive and more stable character. His patience with her at times does make you wonder—yes, she’s beautiful but is she really worth his time? In the end even Lady Babs knows she’s not really good enough for him. But war again pushes smaller concerns to the background. It is quite possible that war does leave these two able to marry just because Waterloo did happen as it did.

The book in many ways stand better as a historical novel, and might even have been better pushed into much more of a history of Waterloo or a novel with the battle at its heart for the beginning, middle and end. Many Georgette Heyer fans find the book a difficult one to enjoy—war just is not that much fun. But the battle sequences are griping—and the drama comes along with Heyer’s typical dry wit and her characters always shine on the page. There is also the joy of the events in Brussels as events lead up to the fateful battle. But the losses at Waterloo were truly devastating—and this is not glossed over in the story.

So…what to make of the book. If you’re a fan of history, you’ll love it. In many ways, An Infamous Army is a good match to read along with The Spanish Bride, another of Heyer’s books immersed in historical detail. But The Spanish Bride has the Peninsular campaign as its background, and while brutal battles are also part of that book, the romance is perhaps sweeter and stronger there than in An Infamous Army. But with the 200th anniversary of Waterloo upon us this June, it’s time to break out the book for another read. For every book of Heyer’s is always worth another read.

Find Shannon Donnelly at:

shannondonnelly.com

@sdwriter

facebook.com/sdwriter

  13 Responses to “Regency Turns 80 — An Infamous Army

  1. Great post, Shannon. I’m only halfway through this book, but as a history lover, I’m really enjoying the historical detail. I’ve just finished a non-fiction book about the Peninsular War so I look forward to reading The Spanish Bride.

  2. I love the historical setting of this book. The detail is riveting and thanks for the reminder that it revisits characters from earlier novels that I also loved. I have to say that when I read the book first I did have trouble understanding why Barbara didn’t just snap Audley up. I had quite fallen in love with him in the previous book. Great post. Off to reread.

  3. This is one of the few Heyer novels I have yet to read, and now I am really looking forward to it. I do love the thought of students at Sandhurst learning about the Battle of Waterloo from a “romance” novelist.
    Terrific post, Shannon.

  4. Yes, and the military academy at Sandhurst still occasionally references this novel during lectures. I struggled through it at age 12, but by the time I re-read it at 14 I had a better understanding of the circumstances of the day.

  5. I left a comment yesterday, but it didn’t post. I’ve been having internet trouble. Excellent article, Shannon, and it helped me to figure out what I wanted to say about The Spanish Bride, up next! I hope they end up reading well together.

  6. Excellent post, Shannon! I enjoyed this book very much when I read it. Since I also am a fan of straight historicals, I liked the military aspect of it, as well. Certainly the hero and heroine and the romance plot (and sub-plot) were more layered and complicated than almost any of her other books. I hadn’t known the current Sandhurst connection. Thanks for the research!

  7. This is one of my favorite Heyer’s just because it is so bitter sweet. The romance and the failings of some of the other familiar characters from the previous books mirror the setting and the tone of the battlefields of France. It is a regular re-read for me. And yes, Charles is a saint. 🙂

  8. I loved this one even when I first read it as a teenager. And I didn’t even like Barbara. The battle just fascinated me, and I liked seeing Worth and Judith again. And Charles. Sigh. Bittersweet definitely applies. Thank you, Shannon!

  9. An Infamous Army has always been one of my favorite Heyer books. When I was working in Scotland, I went to visit the Regimental museum of the Royal Scots Grays to see the famous painting of the charge at Waterloo in person. It always brings goosebumps to my arms and a lump to my throat. War isn’t beautiful but it often does bring out the beautiful in people’s natures.

  10. I actually liked Barbara! I didn’t like everything she did, of course, but I found her quite compelling. In fact, I really enjoyed all of the non-battle parts of this novel (it seems I’m the opposite of some, here!) I greatly respect the battle parts, but I don’t have the kind of brain that can easily visualize something from a written description, so parts of the battle sections were rather like reading a foreign language that I knew just a little bit of.

    It was all worth it to me for the character-parts, though. And I luckily knew to read the books about Barbara’s grandparents and parents first, so I had all those tie-ins to lend an extra touch. (I somehow missed all the connections to Regency Buck, though! I suspect I read the latter a couple years after An Infamous Army, and neither book is on my list of frequent Heyer re-reads, so I never noticed the recurring characters.) Now I’ll need to go find all the Infamous Army characters in Regency Buck! (Fun!)

  11. Hello, Shannon! Long time since your last novel, more’s the shame.

    What I remember from Heyer’s Napoleonic Wars novels has made me sound more (generally) knowledgeable than I actually am of geography of the area, and of the wars themselves. When I first heard of the town? in South Africa called Ladysmith, I knew for whom it had been named. Made me go, Awwwww.

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