Georgette Heyer’s 1937 novel, An Infamous Army, is one I was particularly interested in reading because it sounded a bit different from most of her others, being as much a story of the Battle of Waterloo as a Regency romance. It can be read as a standalone novel but it also features characters (or descendants of characters) who appeared in her previous novels These Old Shades, Devil’s Cub and Regency Buck.
Several years have passed since Regency Buck ended and the Earl of Worth is in Brussels with his wife, Judith, and their young son. As the threat of Napoleon draws closer, Brussels has become the centre of fashionable society – a place to entertain oneself with dances, picnics and concerts while the outcome of the Vienna Congress and the arrival of the Duke of Wellington are awaited. Judith is hoping to bring about a match between Worth’s brother Charles Audley and her friend Lucy, but she hasn’t counted on Charles falling passionately in love with Lady Barbara Childe, a beautiful but notorious young widow with a reputation for wildness. Although Barbara – or Bab, as she is known – claims to love Charles too, she shows no sign of changing her ways and Judith is sure her brother-in-law is going to be hurt.
The relationship between Charles and Bab develops throughout the first half of the novel, so that by the time the Battle of Waterloo arrives, we are already emotionally invested in the lives of some of the characters who are going to be affected by the battle in one way or another. Heyer is one of those authors you can always count on to have done her research, but everything in this book feels particularly authentic (she famously claimed that every word she attributes to her fictional Duke of Wellington was either spoken or written by him in real life).
Each stage of the battle is described in an incredible amount of detail, not just the tactics and the military manoeuvres, but also the human cost as lives are lost, men are injured and those on the sidelines wait for news of their loved ones. As I’ve mentioned before, I am not usually a fan of lengthy battle scenes, however well written they are, so although I certainly appreciated the accuracy of Heyer’s account of Waterloo and the quality of her writing, I can’t really say that this has become a favourite Heyer novel. This is just a matter of personal taste though, and I’m sure other people will love this book precisely because it does include long battle scenes (by long, I mean they take up most of the second half of the novel).
As for the Charles and Bab storyline, I enjoyed following the course of their relationship, especially as I thought it was difficult to tell at first how Bab really felt about Charles. She comes across at the beginning as self-centred, reckless and fun-loving, the sort of person who causes a scandal wherever she goes (not that it takes much to cause a scandal in 1815 – painting your toenails gold, for example). It took me a while to warm to her, but when I did I found that she was also kind hearted, compassionate and courageous. Even so, she is not one of my favourite Heyer heroines – although, again, I can see why other readers might love her.
Reading An Infamous Army has inspired me to finally try one of Heyer’s six historical novels (i.e. not the ones that are Regency or Georgian romances). I am currently a few chapters into Beauvallet and enjoying it so far; you can expect to hear more about it soon!