Vulpes Libris

A collective of bibliophiles talking about books. Book Fox (vulpes libris): small bibliovorous mammal of overactive imagination and uncommonly large bookshop expenses. Habitat: anywhere the rustle of pages can be heard.

All’s Heyer in Love and War: An Infamous Army

311226My favourite Georgette Heyer novel is also the one it costs me the most effort to read: her Waterloo epic An Infamous Army. Like Hilary before me, I’m not about to spoil the plot for you (yes, it’s Waterloo, and yes, we all know the outcome, but there’s considerably more to it than that). But if you’d like detail, there is a highly entertaining and spoiler-y review on tor.com here.

There’s a lot about An Infamous Army that plods where other Heyer favourites gallop (The Grand Sophy, The Convenient Marriage, Regency Buck – which I like a great deal, despite the odious Worth). Even re-reading it, I have to force myself through the first couple of chapters or so, with the surfeit of Real Actual People, and the detail – O Lord, the detail. Heyer does not wear her learning lightly, and there are a great many people who crop up in this book for no reason I can discern apart from that they were around at the time, and add colour. Heyer sometimes throws in snatches of their correspondence in italics, which sits oddly with me, a bit like Richard Burton’s Trotsky wandering around his Mexican garden, holding a rabbit and citing his own theories.

The indispensable Real Actual Person and the greatest one, in every sense, is Wellington. It’s extremely hard to portray someone like that better or more vividly than he portrayed himself, and Heyer – for all that she’s very good on the warts – approaches the man with more than a touch of the breathless adoration her characters show towards him at every turn. It might be all very enthralling if you’re in love with the Iron Duke yourself; but I’m not, and I far prefer Heyer’s less reverential portrayals of less worthy characters: Beau Brummell, for example, or the Prince Regent (and now you see why I like Regency Buck).

By this point you might be wondering why I’ve written about the damn book at all. But this big, complicated novel has many strands to it, and there are two I like above all else. One is the Battle of Waterloo itself: Heyer is extremely good at conveying the sheer dread of it all, managing to invest well-worn events with a freshness and a tension I’ve yet to see elsewhere. And the other is the difficult love story between Colonel Charles Audley (the nicest leading man I’ve ever met, and he has my heart) and the Fatal Widow, Barbara Childe (who’s frequently awful, but is at least properly scandalous, rather than merely gormless/contrary/daft).

As I’ve written elsewhere, I love reading romantic fiction, but I don’t always feel invested in the central love story, much less fall for the hero; there’s nothing chillier to my susceptible heart than a man who’s too obviously made to be loved. By the same token – and this applies to some of Heyer’s romances, too – it can be hard to get caught up in a story when there doesn’t seem to be any real risk of it all going wrong, or when everything that does go wrong could have been resolved by a short conversation early on. But the risk factor here feels very real indeed: it’s death that threatens on one front, and dysfunction on the other. And Charles Audley, for all his lovely nature and air of sanity, is clearly hell-bent on dicing with both. (I won’t lie. I wanted to rescue him.)

Is An Infamous Army the most polished, the most cohesive, even the most entertaining of Heyer’s novels? Absolutely not. But at its heart it has a power and an originality all of its own, in love and in war. It is, without a doubt, my very favourite.

Arrow, paperback, 448 pp., ISBN: 978-0099465768

8 comments on “All’s Heyer in Love and War: An Infamous Army

  1. John Jackson
    November 21, 2014

    One of my 3 favourites!! I understand it is in the library at Sandhurst – as a TEXTBOOK!
    Unlike you, I found it an easy read – and reread it every year.
    My Gt gt Grandfather was at Waterloo (ADC to Gen Byng – wounded delivering a dispatch to Wellington from Hougemont)
    John🙂

  2. Kate
    November 21, 2014

    I wear gold nail varnish on my toes every summer, because Lady Barbara said it was fine. i love the romance in this novel, it’s one of the best she ever wrote, but I cannot be bothered with the history. Except the Duchess of Richmond’s Ball, that’s beautifully done.

  3. Shay
    November 21, 2014

    Sane, steady, reliable men, for some reason, often marry contrary women. Just ask my husband.

  4. Jackie
    November 22, 2014

    I can’t believe after saying all that is wrong with it, you end by saying it’s your favorite! But I do like how you separate the story from the history & can see how they could have different appeals. It does sound unique to show the effect of Waterloo on the folks at home.

  5. Claire (The Captive Reader)
    November 22, 2014

    I love all the elements of this book – the history especially – and yet it has never ranked among my favourite Heyer novels. I enjoy the central romance but always find myself more moved (upset? I’m not quite certain) by the changes to Perry and Harriet’s marriage. It’s been years since I read it though, so who knows what I’d feel about it today. I just finished Devil’s Cub last night (this week of Heyer was inspiring) so this would be a logical next choice…

  6. sema4dogz
    November 22, 2014

    I found An Infamous Army hard going in the ‘historical’ parts and admit to skipping . As the reviewer say, GH somehow manages to not to wear her learning lightly in this. Same with – well, much worse with My Lord John and Simon The Coldheart . I don’t at all mind vast detail about things I know nothing of – I’m a Hornblower fan and heavens knows I don’t know a binnacle from a fo’c’sl , but it doesn’t matter because Forester manages to do it so effortlessly. Just as GH does in all her Regencies and Georgians.

    I understand AIA contains so much and so accurate detail of Waterloo and military dispositions generally that it has been used at Sandhurst in military history lectures etc. but it doesn’t make for free flowing prose to my mind .

    Or maybe I’m just sour because the high spirited Judith of Regency Buck is so utterly tamed and contained in AIA…

  7. Pingback: Devil’s Cub – Georgette Heyer | The Captive Reader

  8. eahad
    September 16, 2016

    I have experienced Heyer by the audio books read by Richard Armitage.I had been a history reader in the past , so i have to acquire this book about Waterloo. it sounds interesting..

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