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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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.
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