Bookworm, writer, radio host—I blog about history, fiction, and publishing in the Internet Age. You can find the full blog on my website. This space is for books.
This is not my favorite Heyer (that would be Devil's Cub, The Grand Sophy, or Sylvester), but it is definitely my favorite war book. Even Heyer's An Infamous Army, which could be considered a sequel to this one with its focus on Waterloo—a bookso accurate that the cadets at Sandhurst reportedly read it as a battle study—cannot hold a candle to this one in terms of making the business of war accessible to non-soldiers.
Based on the first part of Sir Harry Smith's diaries and every other memoir of the Peninsular War that came into Heyer's hands, it follows the British Army from Badajos to Toulouse and on to Waterloo through the story of Harry Smith and his child bride, Juana Ponce de Leon. They met, fell in love, and married when she was barely 14 and he was 25 and remained together and passionately attached all their lives.
Yet this is not one of Heyer's famed Regency romances. The focus is on the battles—the planning, the campaigns, the mistakes and successes, the camaraderie of men facing death together, the courage and resourcefulness of the women who accompanied the troops in an age when ladies were supposed to stay at home and embroider pretty handkerchiefs for their fighting husbands. In Heyer's skilled hands, it's a trip worth taking, even—or perhaps especially—if you are a reader who would normally never pick up a book about war.