The Adventurers by Jane Aiken Hodge

I’m enjoying working my way through Jane Aiken Hodge’s novels but, as I suppose is the case with many authors’ work, I’m finding that the quality varies a lot. The Adventurers (first published in 1965) is certainly much better than the last one I read, First Night, but not as enjoyable as Marry in Haste, Watch the Wall, My Darling or Strangers in Company.

The novel is set towards the end of the Napoleonic Wars when, following the Battle of Leipzig in 1813, the defeated French army begin their retreat through Germany. The von Hugel castle lies in their path and seventeen-year-old Sonia von Hugel hides in the hayloft as her family and servants are massacred around her. When the violence is over, Sonia escapes from the castle disguised as a boy, intending to make her way to her aunt’s home across the mountains. Stopping at an inn along the way, she has an encounter with the mysterious Charles Vincent, who makes her an offer which causes her to change her plans and agree to accompany him to France instead.

In England, meanwhile, we meet Lord Denbigh and his nephew Philip Haverton, who are preparing to travel to France on diplomatic business. What will happen when their paths cross with Charles and Sonia’s? What is their connection with Sonia’s friend, Elizabeth Barrymore? And, most importantly, where does Charles keep disappearing to without explanation?

As this novel, like many of Aiken Hodge’s, is set in the Regency period, it’s difficult not to make comparisons with Georgette Heyer. The opening sequence, with the heroine dressing as a boy and meeting the hero at an inn – and the misunderstandings that follow – is exactly the sort of storyline that will be familiar to Heyer readers. After this promising beginning, though, the story becomes much less Heyer-like, with very little humour and lightness and a more serious, sombre feel. The politics of the period also form quite an important part of the novel, with Napoleon facing defeat and a plot to restore the Bourbon monarchy gathering pace.

I have described Charles and Sonia as the hero and heroine – and it did seem that way at first – but I quickly began to lose interest in them, especially as Charles was absent for such long sections of the novel (for reasons I found too easy to predict). It was disappointing that their plan to travel across Europe as ‘adventurers’, making their living from winning money at cards, didn’t really come to much and there was far less adventure in the book than I had hoped for. One character who did interest me was Elizabeth Barrymore; I felt that it was her story rather than Sonia’s that the author really wanted to tell. She is given a romantic interest of her own and although I found the way it develops predictable as well, I thought it was more engaging and more moving than Sonia’s – a story of mistakes, regrets and second chances, a bit like Anne Elliot’s in Jane Austen’s Persuasion. Aiken Hodge wrote biographies of both Austen and Heyer, so it’s not surprising that their influence can be seen in her work.

The Adventurers is not a favourite by this author, then, but I did enjoy getting to know Elizabeth and learning a little bit about the political situation in Europe in the aftermath of the Battle of Liepzig.

Thanks to Agora Books for providing a copy of this book for review via NetGalley.

14 thoughts on “The Adventurers by Jane Aiken Hodge

  1. Lark says:

    I always wonder why with some authors their books can be so hit and miss, and with others their books always seem to hit the mark. What changes from book to book?

  2. Calmgrove says:

    I ought to read some of her work, being a huge fan of her sister Joan: she came from a very literary family — their brother also wrote a bit, their father Conrad was a poet and author of course, and their mother encouraged them all to read widely (though I don’t know if she authored books too). But perhaps I won’t start with this particular work!

      • Calmgrove says:

        She did sequels to Austen’s novels, and I have copies of Jane Fairfax and Mansfield Revisited to read sometime. Joan’s fiction for younger readers is what she’s best known for, of course, but it appeals to adults too!

  3. Judy Krueger says:

    Sorry this one wasn’t as good as the others you have read. I think I will get through some more of Joan Aiken’s books before I delve into her sister but it is good to know they were related.

  4. Nish says:

    I have not heard of this author, but I’m interested in the time period and the comparisons with Heyer (an author I love). I”ll probably check out her books in the library.

  5. whatmeread says:

    I read this book a long time ago. When I was young, Hodge was one of my favorites, but as I got older, I realized she wasn’t always a very good writer. You are right. She is extremely variable. I think this was one of the first books by her that I read.

    • Helen says:

      I will probably continue to read her books, but will be prepared for some of them not being very good. I’m hoping to try one of her sister Joan Aiken’s books soon too.

  6. Kathy says:

    I first read this author in middle school when the books first came out…
    probably helped get me started on my life long love of historical fiction.

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