An Infamous Army


Georgette Heyer




Date Reviewed:

January 30, 2010

his is not the type of novel that I would normally pick up. I hadn't read any thing previously from Georgette Heyer, but I classify her as a romance writer, and thus not interesting to me. But An Infamous Army was recommended in this list as a historical novel about Waterloo. I didn't know anything about Waterloo, other than Napoleon lost and the British won, so I decided to try the book.

Alas, this turns out to be a trying book indeed. The first 300 pages (out of 450 in the trade paperback edition) are a tedious trudge through British high society. There are balls. Fêtes. Picnics. And oh, the scandalous things Lady Barbara is wearing! My, did you hear that Charles is engaged! I am shocked at the boorish behavior of Sir Peregrine! What about the sensible Miss Lucy Devenish? Wouldn't she be a fine catch? I found all of this material quite boring to read. I didn't care for any of these elite society types, they existed in some fantasy world of pleasure and wealth, removed from the reality of learning, building or creating. They existed simply to preen and gossip. None of the characters are appealing, I found I could care less who got married to whom.

The only reason I kept plodding forward with this novel is that the blurbs contain some high praise for the Battle of Waterloo such as "one of the most historically accurate and vividly narrated descriptions of the Battle of Waterloo". But while the Waterloo battle scenes are detailed, they did not give me a good picture of what was happening, it sure would have helped it they had included a map. During the battle, Heyer scruplously tells us that this regiment is deployed, or that battlion moves, but since we get so many of these battle orders, it is hard to make sense of the strategy. A Colonel gets mentioned, and then he perishes. A general makes a statement, and then disappears again. This group fought valiantly. That group suffered heavy casualties.

Heyer feeds us so much information that I got no sense of how the battle was really unfolding. The details are all historically accurate (I presume) but Heyer fails to bind them into a narrative that really tells the story of Waterloo. Wellington is only around for a few pages at a time. He rallies some men. Then disappears again. What is he thinking? What is his strategy? Instead, I saw Colonel Charles Audley ride around madly on his horse a lot. Everywhere Charles goes, the British keep a jolly good stiff upper lip - "Sure, I have sixteen bullet holes in my chest, but I show those French bastards!" This sentiment seemed universal - the British are all too courageous to be scared of the walls of cannon fire and musket balls that rip them apart. I think the horror of war would have been better conveyed if at least some of the British had screamed in pain, or died cursing. All this honor and nobility was hard to believe, it seemed like the Monty Python parody of the Black Knight, who loses his arms and legs to the sword of King Arthur, but still insists on fighting on undaunted by his injuries.

I think this book was a huge disappointment. I certainly will not read any more books by Heyer.