An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

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!

23 thoughts on “An Infamous Army by Georgette Heyer

  1. Pam Thomas says:

    Like you, I’m not a huge fan of An Infamous Army, but my mother (who got me into Heyer) certainly was – a vintage copy of it was one of my last birthday presents to her before she died. Another of her favourite Heyer novels was one I hope you’ve got on your list – ‘The Spanish Bride’, which is set in the Peninsular War and a true story. In fact, my mother was so taken by the book that my father, as a wedding present to her, tracked down and bought for her a copy of Harry Smith’s autobiography – no mean feat in the days before the internet! Many of the people featured in the book also wrote about the war afterwards, including Johnny Kincaid, and my mother had his autobiography too – it’s very amusing, like Johnny himself. I’ve now inherited her books, and the thought of one day writing about the Peninsular War myself has long been at the back of my mind – if I ever get the opportunity! A fascinating period of history.

    • Helen says:

      I’ve only been reading Heyer for about ten years so still have quite a few left to read, including The Spanish Bride. I have to admit, it hasn’t been one that has sounded particularly appealing to me but as your mother thought so highly of it, maybe I need to move it up the list. I’m sure the Peninsular War would be a fascinating subject to research and write about – I would love to read your book if you ever write it! 🙂

  2. Rachel - What Rachel Did says:

    This is the first and only Georgette Heyer novel I’ve ever read – I want to read more of her Regency romances, but I agree that the battle scenes were a bit lengthy and too in-depth! Do you have any recommendations for more of her books?

    • Helen says:

      Rachel – I’ve read about half of Heyer’s novels (though none of the ones Pam has recommended yet) and I’ve enjoyed almost all of them. My favourites so far include The Convenient Marriage for the humour, Black Sheep for the romance, The Quiet Gentleman for the mystery and The Corinthian and The Masqueraders for the adventure. Plenty to choose from there!

  3. Claire 'Word by Word' says:

    How funny that Georgtte Heyer comes up today, I’ve just located a copy of her novel ‘Venetia’, which I’ve been meaning to source for years, well for 28 years in fact, since I learned that it was the name my birth mother gave me and one I had never even heard of. She casually remarked that she’d been reading a romance novel and so I think this must have been it. Since I’m now writing about my own story, I decided I ought to read up on who this Venetia character was, that lead her to give the name to a child, even if it was subsequently taken away and I would wait 23 years to find out what it was.

    It’s interesting to know she also wrote a few historical novels, those are more my inclination to be honest, but the one with my name on it so to speak, demands to be read!

    • Helen says:

      Venetia is a lovely name, and yes, if you were only going to read one Georgette Heyer novel I think it would have to be that one! I haven’t read it myself yet but I’ve seen a lot of Heyer readers describe it as a favourite, so I hope you enjoy it.

  4. whatmeread says:

    Her historical novels aren’t my favorite. For one thing, in this book, the Worths seem to have lost their personalities. It seems to me as if she felt as if her historical novels had to be more restrained and less imaginative than her other, more frothy novels. In one way they did, but historical novels are still novels, so the characters need to have distinctive personalities. It’s not so bad in this one, where most of the characters are fictional, but try reading some of her more biographical historical novels and tell me what you think. Like My Lord John.

    • Helen says:

      I agree – the Worths in this book didn’t feel like the same people they were in Regency Buck. I would like to read all of her novels eventually, but I’ve been putting off My Lord John because it gets such bad reviews. I’ll let you know what I think when I do try it!

  5. Judy Krueger says:

    Brussels, Napoleon and Waterloo sound good. A half a book given to the battle sounds not good. Heyer’s ways of writing romance are just a bit too tame for me. But I enjoy reading your reviews of her books!

    • Helen says:

      I love Heyer’s books, but I can see why they don’t appeal to everyone. I’m not a fan of battle scenes, though, so this one was never going to be a favourite!

  6. Lark says:

    There are so many of her books I still need to read. Didn’t know she’d written more historical novels as well as her romance and mysteries. Can’t wait to hear about the one you’re reading. 🙂

    • Helen says:

      I still have a lot of her books to read too. The historical ones don’t seem as popular or well loved as her romances and mysteries, but I’m enjoying the one I’m reading at the moment, Beauvallet.

  7. Lisa says:

    This is very far down on my own list of Heyer’s novels. I recognize its strengths, I just don’t enjoy reading it. Regency Buck is pretty close to the bottom as well, I find Worth very annoying. But then I couldn’t even finish The Spanish Bride. I did like Beauvallet, though 🙂

    • Helen says:

      Regency Buck isn’t one of my favourites either. I didn’t like Worth at all – I found him unkind and patronising. I’m not very far into Beauvallet but so far it’s much more promising!

  8. cirtnecce says:

    Wonderful review Helen! I have never tried her historical novels for the fear of expectations being set too high! But I think I will give them a try now for sure! Thank You for some great insights!

  9. Penny says:

    I discovered Heyer in my teens (many years ago), and fell in love with her books. I’ve started re-reading them again, and although they now seem a little slow, her research is impeccable. She is credited with inventing the Regency romance genre!

    • Helen says:

      I hope you’re enjoying your re-reads. I still have a lot of her books to read for the first time, but I’m sure I’ll want to re-read them in the future too.

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